• Two Truths, a Question and the Problem with Incitement

    January 14, 2022 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Trump


     
    One truth is the 2020 campaign never really ended. On paper Joe Biden became president and Donald Trump became a real estate developer again, but in reality Biden is simply a placeholder and Trump an active candidate for the presidency in 2024.

    A second truth is in the law, unlike in propaganda and journalism as it is practiced today, words have very precise and specific meanings. Terms like assault, for example are well-defined by decades of case law. You can write gobbledy guck about things like a “verbal microaggressive assault” but that’s just for the rubes; don’t expect the case to make it to court. The same for terms like incitement, hate speech, and conspiracy. Never mind terrorism, treason or sedition.

    The question is: after five years of failed, false accusations against Trump (Russiagate on down), how valid of an election strategy is it to twist vernacular definitions into quasi-legal ones? After so many instances of crying wolf (walls closing in, tick tock, etc,) will doing it all again over the events of January 6 actually win votes for the Democratic candidate, or will voters finally realize the Emperor’s arguments about Trump have no clothing and stay home?

     

    Absent some Pearl Harbor-scale event, it is difficult to see what the Dems can run on in 2024. It is unlikely the Democrats will emerge from the 2022 midterms with a new majority, meaning all of their domestic agenda promises are shot. They are likely to lose the battle over Roe, and accomplish little on immigration other than the half-arsed decision to stop enforcing immigration law on the southern border. Even if Mother Nature casts a vote and cleans up Covid somehow, it will be difficult for Democrats to take much credit. They have no clear plan for unfutzing the economy and any progress made will be seen as catch-up at best. Tearing down statues and appointing transpeople only goes so far.

    Their whole strategy for 2024 is to make people believe Trump tried to overthrow the Constitution on January 6, and having failed sulk away to embrace the electoral process and just run for president again. It’s a tough ask. Propaganda/journalism have failed to sway many minds. To succeed it’s going to require something real, an actual court finding Trump actually guilty of an actual crime that meets the expectations set after flinging around words like treason and sedition. Some goofy tax problem in a New York state court or empty process crimes like “conspiracy to…” which dragged the Russiagate mess, will not be enough.

    The issue? In the law, unlike in propaganda and journalism as it is practiced today, words have very precise and specific meanings. Problem One is there was no coup. Presided over by Trump non-accomplice Mike Pence, Congress did its job. Biden took office. Trump went home. The rioters went home. After a year of efforts none of the 700 some prosecutions have been for anything close to sedition or treason, mostly just fluffy versions of trespassing. None claimed they acted on orders from Trump, Don Jr. or the Pillow Guy. Despite all the over-blown Powerpoints and texts, there was no realistic path toward a coup taking place. That is a very high bar to climb over and prove something serious like treason. You need a fire to prove arson.

    So the Dems and media are left with some lawyering to do, in their minds the equivalent of taking down Al Capone on tax violations. The problem is Capone really did fail to pay taxes. Trump’s actions were instead legal under the First Amendment. The smoking gun can’t have been loaded with blanks.

     

    So the focus ends up on the one thing Trump actually did do on January 6, speak at the Stop the Steal rally. Dems argue his words constitute incitement. You can reread them, but it would be more productive to spend some time learning what actually is and is not incitement.

    A democracy can’t lock up everyone who stirs up a crowd. Speech which inspires, motivates or stirs up the blood cannot be illegal as it is the very stuff of democracy. Trump thought the election was unfair and had a Constitutional right to say so. Democracy could not exist if the law held every speaker responsible for whatever people who heard him talk did later. A finer line was needed.
    The first try at restricting “dangerous speech” was Schenck v. United States, which produced the misunderstood line about not shouting Fire! in a crowded theatre. It would be for the later case of Brandenburg v. Ohio to refine the modern standard for restricting speech. It tightened the criteria to 1) the speech explicitly or implicitly encouraged the use of violence or lawless action; 2) the speaker intends their speech will result in the use of violence or lawless action, and 3) the imminent use of violence or lawless action is the likely result of the speech. Brandenburg is the Supreme Court’s statement on what government may do about speech that seeks to incite others to lawless action.

    The key to Brandenburg is intent. You have to prove, not just speculate, the speaker wanted to cause violence. A hostile reaction of a crowd does not automatically transform protected speech into incitement. Listeners’ reaction to speech is thus not alone a basis for regulation, or for taking action against a speaker. The speaker had to clearly want to cause some specific illegal act. You need to prove Trump wanted the crowd to attack the Capitol (he instead tells them to walk there and cheer on the legislators “who do the right thing” and “to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard”) and set out to find the words to make that happen.

    In the 1982 Claiborne v. NAACP the Court ruled civil rights leaders were not responsible for a crowd which, after hearing them speak, burned down a white man’s store. The state’s argument, rejected by the Court, was that no matter how they disguised their codewords and dog whistles, the leaders just knew their inflammatory rhetoric would drive the crowd to violence. Nope, said the Court, the standard is simple, the actual words spoken.

    The law is similar for sedition, seeking to overthrow the government by force. This is intimately tied to the concept of free speech in that any true attempt at illegal overthrow, as well as any legitimate criticism of the government, will both include persuasion and stirring up of crowds. The line between criticizing the government and organizing for it to be overthrown is a critical juncture in a democracy. The law requires the government prove someone conspired to use force to overthrow the government. Simply advocating broadly for the use of violence is not the same thing as violence and in most cases is protected as free speech. That’s why no one from January 6 has been or will be charged with sedition or treason or anything similar. For example, suggesting the need for revolution “by any means necessary” is unlikely to be seen as conspiracy to overthrow the government by force. Actively planning such an action (distributing guns, working out the logistics, actively opposing lawful authority, etc.) could be considered sedition. But that’s not what happened with Trump on January 6.

    Most of the rest of the guff around Trump and January 6 is even emptier of substance, things like “giving aid or comfort” to those committing sedition, conspiracy to forcibly “prevent, hinder or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or corruptly impede any official proceeding. The Dems focus in this sphere is on what Trump did not do to stop the riot, particularly his taking three hours to issue a video request for the rioters to go home. The over-arching problem is that crimes generally require you to do something. Not doing things, or not doing them fast enough to the Dems satisfaction, is hardly a chargeable crime.

    The clearest sign there is nothing real behind the exaggerated claims surrounding January 6 is that after an impeachment, a calendar year passing, and 700 some low-level prosecutions, nothing much has been proven. As with Russiagate, the more time that passes with nothing but media-generated smoke the less likely there is anything more. Even die-hard Trump Derangement Syndrome sufferers like Laurence Tribe are reduced to weakly calling for more robust investigations instead of beating the drum for execution. Time for the left to lump Merrick Garland in with Robert Mueller as a great failure.

    There is certainly room to judge Trump’s actions on January 6. But that judgement must come from the voters, not a kangaroo court, if you want to talk about preserving the rule of law.

       

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Student Loan Relief, No. Education Costs Reform, Yes, Please.

    January 8, 2022 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden, Economy


    Joe “Vote Panderer” Biden dropped a little Christmas present in the punchbowl late December. He extended the “pause” on student loan payments until May 1. Biden remains under pressure to cancel the debt. The debt has been a Democratic White Whale forever, and what happens next in May will not be the last of this, especially heading into the midterms later this year.

    Despite Democrats’ acid-soaked dreams, student loan forgiveness will accomplish little. But major changes in how education is paid for, and what it costs, can lift America into the 21st century if only we had the guts to do it.

    Start with trying to figure out the benefits of student loan forgiveness/debt relief in the Joe Biden and Democratic vision. You come up with a) it’s free money for the recipients and b) it may be worth more votes for Democrats in the younger demographics than it causes them to lose in the older ones (polls show the divide near dead-even, with 46 percent supporting free money.) That’s kind of it. It’s just a pay off for votes.

    Tag along arguments are dismissible, stuff like the comparatively small amounts of money on a per-person basis involved with loan forgiveness will help balance economic and/or racial inequality, or that people will spend the money set aside for loans on flat screens and game credits to boast the economy more than spending the money on tuition, and this will all somehow end “privilege.” The Trump administration already deferred student-loan payments because of Covid so canceling payments outright would not lead to much more of a short-term boost in consumer spending (and help drive inflation as well.) And unless forgiveness also includes tax reform, most of the “forgiven” money will suddenly be taxable as income. Forgiveness won’t help America be smarter and more 21st century because the people with the debt already have their degrees.

    About here in most articles about student debt things get emotional. So meet Maria, a bright 22-year-old who always dreamt of giving back to her community via a degree in BIPOC Gender Studies. But upon graduation she discovered she owed a gazillion dollars in student loans plus whatever “interest” was, and that Craigslist had no jobs listed for her major! Her job at Target only pays enough to cover her Spotify bill. She says she is a victim of an unfair system.

    You’d think that was fiction, yet The Atlantic goes as far as calling student loan debt “immoral,” because in the writer’s words it is “a high debt burden proportional to my income. The burden is so heavy that it has delayed major milestones. My partner and I are soon-to-be newlyweds in our 30s with stable, full-time jobs… Thanks largely to our student-loan debt, we don’t know how we’ll be able to afford kids.” She also has to rent. OMG.

    And politically, debt relief may hurt as much as it sort of helps. Many voters would be very uncomfortable with the idea of saying to people who paid their debt off through sacrifice and hard work, ha ha, joke’s on you suckers, if you’d only waited another year it would have been free. Why is college debt more special than debt for medical care, a car you need to have a job, etc. What about people who joined the military for the college money (75 percent of those who enlisted said they did so.) Thanks for your service sucker, and hey sorry about the arm, you could have stayed home and smoked herb and got the same financial deal.

    Despite the horror stories about 22-year old kids with six-figure debt, only six percent of student borrowers owe more than $100,000. This small percentage of super-borrowers accounts for about one third of all student loan debt. The government limits federal borrowing by undergrads to $31,000 (for dependent students) and $57,500 (for those no longer dependent on their parents.) Those who owe more than that almost always have borrowed for the discretionary decision to go to graduate school. About 30 percent of undergraduates finish school with no debt, 25 percentage with less than $20,000.

    Student loan debt isn’t even the critical part of our economic problems. Some 71 percent of the $14 trillion in ballooning consumer debt is mortgages or home equity loans. Student loan debt is 11 percent, with car loans at nine percent.  Formal income-based repayment plans have existed for some time now for student loans with no equivalent for other debt. Nobody seems concerned about mortgage debt relief, not in 2008 when Obama and Biden bailed out Wall Street over Main Street and not in 2021 when Biden is back, and that’s after the American mortgage crisis almost took down the entire global economy.

    Student debt is relatively small on a per person basis, and a fraction of overall debt. This is much more of a political pandering for votes issue than an economic one. But AOC wants you want to do something. So time to reform education costs.

    Unlike nearly every other developed country, which offer free or low cost higher education (Germany, Sweden and others are completely free; Korea’s flagship Seoul National University runs about $12,000 a year, around the same as Oxford), in America you need money to go to college. Harvard charges $63,000 a year, a quarter of a million dollars for a degree. Even a state school will charge $22,000 a year. There are only a handful of paths to higher education in America: parents; be poor and smart to qualify for financial aid (there is no financial aid crisis current university endowments can’t lick,) the military, or take on debt.

    No matter which path you take, the problem is the price of education. Like many of the old, crumbling things in America built a long time ago in an industrial nation which no longer exists outside of the Springsteen songbook, our paying for education needs a serious fix. Forgiving debt is a Band Aid on a throbbing wet tumor. The next crop of freshman will just start accumulating new debt in the fall. After we forgive all that and do nothing to change how much colleges charge, we’ll just have to do it all again in a few years.

    The cost of college increased by more than 25 percent in the last 10 years. In Louisiana tuition doubled since 2008. In Alabama and Arizona, tuition at public colleges and universities is up more than 60 percent. The price continues to rise eight times faster than wages. For example, in 1978 when I attended Ohio State, tuition was $1056 a year. Minimum wage was $2.65, so working year-long only about eight hours a week one could pay tuition. In 2021 tuition is $10,744 and the minimum wage $8.80. It takes about 23 hours a week, a more than half-time job, to pay, though most businesses cap part-time workers at less than 20 hours to avoid triggering Obamacare payments. It is no surprise 40 percent of kids don’t graduate within six years, a vicious cycle of more years, more costs.

    That rise in costs was hand-in-hand with 41 states spending less per public university student. Higher education funding cuts on the state level are responsible for 79 percent of tuition increases. State funding cuts are driven by decreasing tax revenues, political decisions to spend money elsewhere, and increases in the number of students going to college as a higher education moves from a prized possession to a near-necessity in the job market.

    Any one-timey debt relief will change nothing in the underlying factors driving students into debt. Something has to change the calculus among the minimum wage, tuition costs, and declining state funding.

    One solution would be to tie Federal funding to a state’s willingness to lower public tuition to match a reasonable work expectation from a full-time student. So tuition would go up or down based on what someone could earn at minimum wage with say 15 hours of after school work a week. It would be possible once again to work your way through school.

    There’s also another way, sadly far beyond the intellectual reach of a once-great nation like the United States. Security is defined by much more than a large military. The United States, still struggling to transition from a soot and steel industrial base to something that can compete in the 21st century, can only do so through education. More smart people is an investment in one of the most critical forms of infrastructure out there – brains.

    A single F-35 fighter plane costs $178 million. Dropping just one plane from inventory generates 3,358 years of college money at today’s average costs. We could pass on buying a handful of the planes and still defend ourselves well. Give the money saved to states directly for education. Or use the money to create some type of civilian service alongside the military; there’s got to be something that needs doing enough that the government will pay for college other than humping a ruck across the next Afghanistan.

    For a nation that can clearly afford to pay for a broader base of accessible higher education if it wants to, it seems very wrong to simply leave the nation’s future to a Darwinian system of financial survival overlaid with a Dickensian debt plan. But new priorities and serious reforms, not free money, are the solution.

     

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  • Dreaming of a White, Yellow, and Black Christmas?

    January 3, 2022 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Other Ideas


    “Well before diversity in merchandising was a thing, my mother, like many black parents in the 1980s and 1990s, always MacGyvered peach-skinned Christmas figurines into mirror images of our own family. Mom carefully colored in the faces of elves on ornaments, angel tree toppers, carolers on Christmas cards, and, most importantly, all iterations of Santa Claus himself got the brown marker treatment,” wrote a black woman in the NYT.

    As the parent of two biracial children (my wife is from Asia) I can’t imagine squeezing that much racial thought into our holiday. It never occurred to me to take a yellow highlighter to any of the kids’ dolls. Dolls were molded in some sort of horrific pink that matched no skin tone on earth, same way Bruce Springsteen from New Jersey sings in a Midwesty accent that matches nothing spoken anywhere. I think we understood it was all intended as some kind of generic, or that it meant nothing at all, the way in candy yellow meant lemon and green meant lime but neither of which had much to do with the actual fruit. Rather than assuming it was all meant as a racial assault, we kind of just didn’t pay much any attention to it. Pass the cranberry sauce, please.

    Now out there someone is saying “But it’s different! Your kids weren’t black.” This is true. But I wish people would make up their minds on Asians. Are they discriminated against POC and we all should cheer them on as they dominate university admissions? Or when it comes down to stuff like that they should be shuffled off into some broader category of pale people, only to be reinstated in the POC club when some Chinese guy for the first time beats out a white man for a city council seat? Maybe my kids wanted to feel hated and being left out at Christmas but just ended up confused.

    It could have been me. My children, unlike those in the New York Times article, were literally raised under the boot of white patriarchy. Me. I told them what to do, determined the initial course of their lives, and made them read Tom Sawyer. Well, sort of. My wife was there lending her more informed perspective. Indeed, she is an immigrant and does not speak English as her native language. That sort of makes her more woke on paper than anyone on The View times 100 Disney movies. I guess the kids were lucky to have her around so their Christmases were not spoiled by the lack of representation.

    The New York Times article pointed out another way I failed my children: they did not get a letter from Yellow Santa. The writer found someone on Etsy that for a few bucks would send a personalized letter from Black Santa. I rushed over, thinking perhaps though my kids are now adults I might still send them something from Yellow Santa to make amends. The thing is the Black Santa letter says exactly the same things our own fake White Santa letters once said, stuff about being a good kid, leaving out milk and cookies, all that. Um, there’s nothing, um, you know, “black” in the letter. The illustrated Santa does not even look like anything but the standard Santa with a tan. One would almost think this was a woke hustle. I checked with my Asian wife on this. She said “Santa lives at the North Pole. Why would he be anything but fair skinned? Doesn’t make sense.” Good thing she’s just an honorary POC or we’d be racists.

    The writer also details her joy in learning Macy’s has a top secret black Santa available on request. Accessing this Santa involves a code word that is passed around New York City orally, and printed in the Times. I don’t think Macy’s has an Asian Santa or Hispanic Santa. They would not confirm a black Santa on request but it seems true. Do they also have separate lines for the black and white toilets? But what is really funny is a person who is willing to trick her kids into the whole Santa myth, a complete lie from the reindeers on down, wants to uphold justice on the skin color. And lady, bad news: in a couple of years Santa is not going to matter at all to your kids.

    Still, if you’re shopping, there is BlackSanta.com which has all sorts of merch, including hoodies. Don’t bother with Asian Santa merch. The few things online don’t look Asian at all, weird considering most are made in China. I did find some bright red “Naughty Mrs. Claus” lingerie worn by young Asian models. That might be racist, too.

    I also found a Japanese-American guy who believes strongly in the concept of Asian Santa, actually at one point claiming Santa originated in Greece, which is in Asia Minor, and thus (I think seriously) made the claim Santa is indeed Asian. The Asian Santa guy was adamant “As a parent of an Asian American kid, I want to have him look up to people that look like him — even if they are fictional. I don’t want him to feel different, in a bad way. It’s important to expose him to Asian/Asian Americans he can look up to — Santa or someone else, it doesn’t matter.”

    It’s all fun until it turns serious. I don’t feel bad about the way my kids grew up. I explained to them (not on Christmas) their great great father was a slave. He died on May 7, 1943 alongside most of his loved ones in the Sobibor concentration camp, about 120 miles from Warsaw. Their grandfather, my dad, was a refugee, who came to America speaking no English. Discrimination in progressive New York City forced the family to change their name to something “whiter” and walk away from their religion. My dad spoke of being beaten up by the Italian kids on the block, and then by the Italian cops who came to break up the beatings.

    I don’t know how to measure horror. Does having relatives enslaved by the Nazis in the 20th century hurt more or less than having relatives enslaved in the 17th century? Does retelling the stories of Emmitt Till and lynchings trump the gas chambers? How to measure that against the Chinese who died building the railroads? The iron workers gunned down by anti-union thugs and federal troops? The coal miners who died horrible deaths from black lung? Race it turns out is not the only narrative, unless you live under the narcissism of contemporary wokeness transcending history.

    The answer to these unresolvable questions, if posed by a white Santa, is usually dismissal, an often not too polite statement of “it’s not the same.” I certainly did not win this “birth lottery” we whites supposedly benefit from, and I find it insulting when CRT people claim any portion of the success I have enjoyed in life is directly related to what other white people did to other blacks hundreds of years before anyone in my family arrived in America. I know whose back my success rests on.

    For all the garbage said about how American history is white-washed, we have no such illusions in our home. We understand how discrimination harmed our relatives, and we know what we all did to grow past it. It had a lot to do with education, sacrifice, and work, and very little to do with exaggerated claims to victimhood by association, the latest fad where any historical event that harmed a black person can be claimed as a lived experience by any living black person. The NYT writer brings up her mother, who grew up in the same town where some black men in 1949 were unjustly accused of murder and rape. She demands a black Santa, in part, to somehow rectify this.

    My family knew America was a rough and imperfect place, a place that systematically exploited many of its people. We knew America’s greatness isn’t about romanticizing a past that never existed; this country always pushed back against immigrants, always sent men and women to die for the wrong reasons abroad. But this still used to be a country that talked about dreams with a straight face. It was never supposed to be a finite place where parents teach their kids they will never get ahead because of the cap of racism. Or that maybe using a different Crayola on Santa was part of some solution.

    Update: it turns out the woman who wrote the NYT article about black Santa is promoting a children’s book called “The Real Santa,” which is “the black Santa Christmas story I wanted my children to read.” She works for the Times. So the NYT article is not in fact a deeply moving memoir of racial injustice. It’s a grift, a commercial, an ad for her book. So we can all feel better. Merry Christmas!

     

     

     

     

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  • Alternate Reality Traps Democrats in World of Dumb

    December 26, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Trump


     

    In early December Hillary Clinton appeared on the Today show to read aloud her never-used victory speech from 2016. The scene was bizarre, Clinton tearing up as she read in first-person, present tense about becoming the first woman president, something which in real life did not happen. She then layered on another alternate reality, one in which President Hillary travels back in time to tell her dead mother “your daughter will grow up and become the president of the United States.” She glowed; she was hearing applause that never happened.

    The unreality of it all was leavened somewhat by the reveal Hillary is selling a video “masterclass” on resilience and the speech is somehow an example of that. While this may be just another example of a Clinton grift, like selling a Bill and Hillary Bass-o-Matic, the thing that stands out is never before has a Democrat loser been reanimated from the grave like Hillary. Al Gore and Michael Dukakis are two of those people you Google to see if they are still alive, and even an attention hound like John Kerry pretends his own presidential wipe out never even happened. A good political rule of thumb is to usher your losers off stage (or make them ambassadors.) Instead, Hillary was on the flagship Today show, not a late night infomercial where garbage like “masterclasses” in resilience usually is peddled.

    But Hillary’s delusional take is not hers alone. After a second White Claw the faithful will insist Hillary did win the popular vote, which counts as actually winning in Clinton Math. They’ll quickly tell you Hillary only lost because Trump cheated or the Russians helped. The Dems and the media so believed that Trump did not actually win-win that they spent his entire term in office trying (unsuccessfully) to negate him, impeach him, prosecute him, or just magically wish him away with a fan-fiction interpretation of the 25th Amendment which presupposed Mike Pence was more evil then they were. The high point of the delusion was Russiagate, a saga entirely made-to-order by the Clinton team and fluffed by the media. It’s one thing to self-righteously say “Not my president” (some MSM pundits would add an asterisk to the word president* when referring to Trump) but it is delusional to say “and he can’t be yours, either.”

    With Hillary granted a pass because she is using her defeat delusion to sell merch, one would have hoped the whole thing would have gone away with the election of Joe Biden. Democrats, you won! And you got the House! You can right all wrongs! Instead, the delusions just continue, an entire party seeming in the grip of political Alzheimer’s. One delusion is Trump will be pre-defeated ahead of 2024 by a mythical…  something. This has been kicking around since Trump won in 2016, the idea that he’ll soon go to jail over taxes, property valuations in New York, or one of his lady victims successfully suing him. Sure, the IRS has had Trump’s taxes for decades, there is at worst a civil penalty in property valuation tomfoolery, and all those victims only seem to end up dragging Dems deeper into the mud of hypocrisy as we’re told to believe all women except those who accuse Uncle Joe of getting a little handsy. Dems, if this is your best, your best won’t do.

    Nah, that stuff is just chum in the water while the Grand Illusion is tweaked. That one is a dramatic statement democracy is dying in America and only defeating Trump (again, once was not enough) will save it. It is a big ask to a weary voting block because a) it is untrue; b) the only evidence lies in a made-up retelling of the Capitol riot and c) the Democrats won in 2020 in an election, something which strongly suggests democracy did its job. The rebuttal that January 6 was just a rehearsal is fact-free, and after all, real Nazis only needed one crack at burning down the Reichstag.

    One can find examples of the delusion almost by throwing darts at the Internet, but a concise one is MSNBC meat puppet Brian Williams’ farewell address. Williams of course earned America’s trust as a journalist by constantly lying throughout his career, usually in ways that suggested he was studlier than the Rock. Williams said “I will wake up tomorrow in the America of the year 2021, a nation unrecognizable to those who came before us and fought to protect it, which is what you must do now. They’ve decided to burn it all down with us inside… But the darkness on the edge of town has spread to the main roads and highways and neighborhoods… Grown men and women who swore an oath to our Constitution, elected by their constituents, possessing the kinds of college degrees I could only dream of, have decided to join the mob.”

    First of course, an acknowledgement Williams plagiarized the phrase, “darkness on the edge of town,” from Bruce Springsteen, himself given over to the delusion because even as he pals around with Barack Obama all the characters from his songs now vote Republican.

    If you haven’t guessed it, Williams is referring to the delusion that the Capitol riot was the seminal event of American democracy. Williams, like others, believes Hillary won in 2016, that the Trump years saw America held prisoner, and that Trump spun up a mob on January 6 to overturn the election and remain in the White House as dictator. That none of that happened, and in fact could never have happened, matters not if you believe in it hard enough.

    Williams is far from alone. “Democracy will be on trial in 2024,” the Atlantic’s Barton Gellman writes. “American democracy is tottering,” warns Vox. “Can American democracy escape the doom loop?” says one Salon piece. “If America really surrenders to fascism, then what?” asks another. “If Merrick Garland Doesn’t Charge Trump and His Coup Plotters, Our Democracy Is Toast,” says the Daily Beast.

    “Are we doomed?” writes the once sentient George Packer. Packer actually imagines “A blue militia sacks Trump National Golf Club Bedminster; a red militia storms Oberlin College. The new president takes power in a state of siege.” Google up as many examples as you want, they are as common as anti-anxiety meds should be on Brian Williams’ night stand. Even Hillary has weighed in, warning “[2024] is a make-or-break point. Are we going to give in to all these lies and this disinformation and this organized effort to undermine our rule of law and our institutions, or are we going to stand up to it?”

    Charles Blow in the NYT seems to take the prize, in an article headlined “We’re Edging Closer to Civil War.” Blow claims “this war won’t be only about the subjugation of black people but also about the subjugation of all who challenge the white racist patriarchy. It will seek to push back against all the ‘others’: black people, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ people and, yes, women, particularly liberal ones.”

    So looking ahead to the democracy dies in the darkness delusion which appears to be the centerpiece of the Democratic campaign of 2024, Americans must be tutored to believe the Capitol riot was part of a massive conspiracy involving Trump, hoping to end democracy in the United States by overturning the 2020 election results via some means no one is able to articulate. All that could have happened was Congress delayed its largely ceremonial blessing of the electoral college results for a day, assuming they just did not convene the afternoon of January 6 somewhere else besides the chaotic Capitol. There is no realistic scenario that could have changed anything that mattered, and no evidence of any national-scale conspiracy underlaying the riot. It was just a bunch of angry people who got out of control for a couple of hours then went home to wait on being arrested months later. None of the rioters has been charged with treason or terrorism, mostly just trespassing. None of the arrested claimed they acted under any organized structure set in place by Trump or anyone else. In their trials each basically said the same, things got out of hand.

    After selling voters that something that did not happen happened, the Democrats must then explain how after four years in power they have not really done much to bulk up democracy except whine about stuff that’s unfair, such as Republican gerrymandering (but not Democratic gerrymandering) and Republican poll watchers (but not Democratic poll watchers) and Republicans not accepting election results (but not Democrats like Stacey Adams not accepting election results.) Never mind out-and-out garbage like the same court system is racist when it acquits one shooter and on-the-mark when it finds another guilty based on the races of shooter and victim. Voters will also have to buy in to the Democratic delusion all the bad stuff they said Trump was gonna do but did not do — LGBT concentration camps, war with Iran, fascism — will for certain happen the next time.

    Elect us to save democracy, say the delusional Democrats, ignoring the reality that democracy is bumbling along pretty much as it was intended to do. The Dem line would all make more sense if Trump had appeared bare chested at the Biden inauguration atop an M1 tank or something, but that is the nature of delusion.

       

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Sotomayor and End of Roe v. Wade

    December 20, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Other Ideas


     

    I don’t know the right answer on abortion. I do know based on the oral arguments recently heard by the Supreme Court regarding Mississippi’s abortion law that our country has problems that cut deeper into our national fabric than the specifics of any abortion law.
    The out-of-the-box role the Founders had in mind for the Supreme Court, basically a check the other branches of government were consistent with the blueprint laid down in the Constitution, did not last long. Almost from the get-go the Court claimed additional authority for itself to strike down laws (Marbury v. Madison, 1803,) the doctrine of judicial review.
    In the years since the Court has used its power to wrestle with Americans over how their country should work. The Court once confirmed slavery (Dred Scott v. Sanford, 1857), later pulled a reluctant public by the ear away from segregation (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954 but only after it had earlier endorsed segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896 ) and trailed public opinion on same-sex marriage only to finally confirm it (Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015.) As for precedent mattering, the underlaying laws supporting slavery and marriage had been in place much longer than Roe‘s 48 years and in their time were more broadly supported.
    But whether leading public opinion or trailing it, the Court assumed a role unthought of by the Founders, one in the absence of common agreement and/or laws passed by Congress, to decide how Americans would live with one another. Should we be a slave-owning nation? Should our schools be segregated? Should same-sex partners be allowed to marry? In case after case the Court took it upon themselves to determine a solution to a social issue, seeing the need for a nation-wide answer to a contentious question once left to each state.
    And that leads us to abortion. Abortion exists at the raw edges of human existence. It is a religious issue, it is an issue intimately tied to liberal and conservative politics. It can decide elections. In cases of rape, incest, or the health of the mother, it is a moral issue. It is a states rights issue. It is women’s health issue and a societal burden issue. It is a socio-economic issue, with the population of women who seek abortions skewed by economics and race. It is healthcare or murder.
    The Court tried in 1973 to pry Americans from one another’s throats over abortion via Roe v. Wade. When the case was first heard, 30 states had complete bans on abortion. Sixteen states had full bans except for rape, incest or the mother’s health. Three states allowed most abortions, but only for residents. Only New York allowed abortions for out-of-state women, but capped them at 24 weeks unless the mother’s health was in danger.
    With Roe the Court took it upon itself to create a kind of compromise out of all that: during the first trimester a state cannot regulate abortion beyond requiring the procedure be performed by a licensed practitioner. During the second trimester a state can regulate abortion if the regulations are reasonably related to the health of the pregnant woman. And during the third trimester, the state’s interest in protecting the fetus outweighs the woman’s rights, so a state may prohibit abortions unless an abortion is necessary to save the life or health of the mother. Roe v. Wade did not legalize abortion per se. What it did was change the way states can regulate abortion.
    Roe also said abortion was a constitutional right, a claim which forms the basis for many who claim the case was wrongly decided. Critics acknowledge while the Court tried to do its best with an impossible problem, nowhere does the Constitution say anything close to abortion being a right, alongside say freedom of speech or due process. They argue the Court should never have essentially written via Roe the law Congress would not. The basis of the right to abortion seems to rest in the 14th Amendment, which otherwise is concerned with equal protection for freed slaves. This bastardization, which allowed the Court in 1973 to create an abortion policy for the entire nation without any democratic input, may prove the basis for Roe‘s undoing. Even one of the Court’s greatest liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, knew Roe was bad law, writing “Heavy-handed judicial intervention was difficult to justify and appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict.”
    Roe‘s other shortcoming is in saying states could not outright ban abortions in the first 24 weeks of a pregnancy. The number was something of a compromise; Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of the majority opinion in Roe, once called the line arbitrary. The question of where to draw the line for abortion, at Roe‘s 24 weeks or Mississippi’s 15 weeks begs the question of why a line exists; aren’t the legal interests (aside from religious/moral ones) basically the same throughout a pregnancy?
    In subsequent cases, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 1992 and Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, 2016, the Court modified Roe in response to many states imposing laws trying to limit abortions by making the process too complicated, expensive or cumbersome. The Court said in the cases above “such laws could not impose an undue burden,” defined as one having “the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.”
    For all that is unclear, three things are clear: 1) Roe always allowed for regulation; it was never abortion without restriction; 2) if the Court can reverse itself on the issues of slavery and segregation it can reverse itself on abortion, and 3) almost no one thinks Roe forever settled the issue of abortion in America. America will ask, and answer, the question anew.
    The current vehicle for asking and answering is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which concerns a 2018 Mississippi law banning almost all abortions after 15 weeks. Its version of regulation is a direct challenge to Roe‘s (Texas’ latest attempt to restrict abortion, SB8, will be heard separately.) The Court heard oral arguments on Dobbs in late November. A decision will be announced in 3-6 months, and will likely have more affect on the midterm elections than any other factor.
    The Court can decide to keep Roe as it is and tell Mississippi to get with the program, it can accept Mississippi’s version (i.e., no abortion after 15 weeks) and upend Roe, or it could ignore Mississippi’s version and re-write Roe to create new rules for each trimester. Any of the three would be consistent with the way the Court has acted for some 220 years.
    What is troubling are some of the statements made during oral arguments by the so-called liberal judges, particularly Justice Sotomayor. Sotomayor went as far as to question whether the legitimacy of the Court itself would endure if it overturned abortion rights. “Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” She accused Mississippi of moving forward with abortion restrictions only “because we have new justices,” referring to the three Trump appointees, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. “If people actually believe that it’s all political, how will we survive?” Sotomayor continued.
    The other liberal justices, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, were equally vehement in their support for abortion as a constitutional right. Alongside Sotomayor, they continually claimed that Roe was “settled law” and was thus somehow above being re-examined. It was left for Justice Kavanaugh to point out to any first year law students in attendance the long line of celebrated cases in which the Supreme Court overruled precedents. If the court had adhered to stare decisis in those cases, he says, “the country would be a much different place” (to include segregation and slavery.) Kavanaugh finished his lecture by noting every current member of the Court has voted to overrule constitutional precedents in various past cases.
    I don’t know the right answer on abortion. Since Congress has steadfastly refused for decades to legislate on the issue, the Court has been left to glean the boundaries among religion, public policy, and individual rights. The compromises and weaknesses in Roe are because of what Congress has avoided doing. Any decisions the Court has made in the past, and the decision they will make in the instant case, will be imperfect. But that’s only the beginning.
    The deeper problem is the Court has taken such an overtly political, partisan turn. Sotomayor in particular embarrasses herself with a fan-fiction quality take on settled law, and her claim that a decision which does not fit her political beliefs will destroy the legitimacy of the Court. She believes in precedent when she agrees with it and does not believe in it when that suits her better. She has suggested the last president’s appointments to the Court are somehow wrong because their mere presence allows Mississippi to challenge Roe. Americans have been trained to claim anytime a court decision or an election goes against their personal preference that means the system is unfair. Shame on Sotomayor for fanning those flames by suggesting her fellow judges are biased and she alone is not.
    Sotomayor is a zealot who sees politics above justice. In that sense it is unclear Sotomayor actually understands how the Supreme Court works. If Roe falls, its supporters may wish to re-examine their champion’s role in so poorly defending it.

       

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • I Sort of Liked Glee

    December 16, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy

     

    YouTube sent me down a spiral rewatching Glee clips. I am not a Glee fan per se, but it was one of a handful of shows I watched when my kids were in Peak Mode, old enough to be interesting as people but not old enough to realize I was not interesting. My kids are adults now; did TV help form them?

    It did. And what we all learned and especially how we learned it is a lesson on the failure of 2021 wokeness to achieve change and instead just piss people off.

    First a shout out to technology, which makes it a click away to rewatch most anything ever recorded somewhere. I remember visiting the Museum of Broadcasting in New York, with its vast video library, and walking away saying “Um, this is just YouTube but in a building.” So no flying cars in 2021 and no Jetsons-like meals in a pill, but I can watch TV from the 2000s anytime I want to.

    The odd collection of shows my kids and I watched together included Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Glee, Lost, and Survivor. This was before we owned a video recorder and way before on-demand TV, so each show had to be watched, together, at a specific time on a certain day of the week. Called “destination TV” today, this was important because it made the watching a communal event. Today much media is consumed alone, or “virtually together” by people in different places connected by some messaging app. It’s not the same.

    Of all the shows we saw together, in 2021 Glee struck me as the most influential. When it first aired it was thought of as, at least in a suburban way, edgy. I’m sure eyes all across Brooklyn are rolling but they miss the point. Glee being suburban was the point. It was edgy not because we didn’t already know gay dudes liked show tunes but because it took place in suburbia (Ohio for God’s sake) and was meant to be watched in suburbia by families together.

    And in the early 2000s in that context it was edgy to have a gay high school kid coming out, and two girls in love with each other without either of them looking like pitbulls with mullets. Better yet, for my prepubescent but paying attention to things kids, and their soon to be parenting teenagers parents, we had a chance to try out talking about things without wokeness being shouted at us and accusations that I was a patriarchal fascist. It seems trivial now when trans-everything is part of everything but even as a relatively open household we needed to wade in shallow waters first. It prepared us when things got more complicated. We were less successful in that regard watching Family Guy together.

    There was a lot of reality to suspend in Glee. It’s what made Glee more of a parody at times, and kept The Message from overwhelming every scene. Yes, a nowhere Ohio high school somehow threw together Broadway-level shows spontaneously. Never mind nearby there was a private boys school essentially the equivalent of a West Village bathhouse. It feels awkward today that the Disabled Kid was considered empowered by being pushed back and forth through the dance numbers, never mind that the actor who played him looked like he was 40 by the time the show ended.

    Showing how wokeness changed, despite the stunning number of LGB kids at this isolated school, it was only toward the end of the show’s run a transperson showed up, and with no fights with the lesbian community over TERF or whether to otherwise support trans inclusion in women’s spaces. Simpler times! Systemic racism seemed like a far away thing compared to whether the school would allow Lady Gaga songs on stage. Mr. Schuester, the club mentor, would today be hauled off by Child Services for his near constant groping of underage girls.

    And yeah, one of the actors was a real-life pedo (who killed himself) and another a drug addict (who killed himself.) Some of the actors who played gay and lesbian students were not gay or lesbian. Few wokesters of today would be happy with the base premise “of course we’re all minorities, we’re in the glee club.” All instant cancellation fodder in 2021.

    We do also need to overlook Glee’s disproportionate number of gays and lesbians in a small Midwestern town. Same for the disproportionate number of Asians and blacks there, and how when one actor left the show he was replaced by another new kid of the same demographic. The racial demographics of the real Lodi, Ohio, where Glee was set, show 97 percent white and zero Asians. I’ve been to Lodi; if it is not 97 percent straight people it is 97 percent people who pretend to be straight. Less than half population there in real life graduated from any high school, never mind one so devoted to the arts.

    But I get it, Glee was just a confection, a network mainstream TV show designed to sell stuff. But Glee was also proto-media, a hint of the agenda all media would assume in just a few years, albeit with a much blunter instrument.

    One of Glee’s best-presented story lines was about the redneck dad slowly accepting his gay son coming out. It was warm-hearted where it could have been like an AOC screed. Same for the various bullies who came to understand those unlike them. That seems a better way to influence rednecks than today’s version where some angry alliance would burn dad’s house down for being homophobic while Lin Manuel-Miranda “while not condoning violence” tweeted out his support for the violence.

    Glee’s message was consistently one of tolerance. Things would work out, there was no need to burn the place down over a bad pronoun choice. Radical intolerance expressed via cancellations, boycotts, and firings is never the solution for others’ intolerance.

    As cliched as that sounds, played out over time, it sings a lot better than tweets demanding death to all cisgender males will 25 years from now. “I’m better than you because I’m queer” isn’t any different than “I’m better than you because I’m not.” If you can’t see the failure of hypocrisy in modern wokeness you should go back and watch Glee again.

    Now imagine the bum-bum-bum Glee bumper music to end this.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • What will be the Casus Belli for War with China?

    December 15, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Military

    In one of the great scenes in the movie Citizen Kane, newspaper publisher Charles Kane, in desperate need of headlines to boost circulation, decides a patriotic war would be just the thing. When his reporters fail to find evidence of imminent hostilities, Kane famously bellows “I’ll supply the war, you supply the pictures!”

    Kane is directly modeled after the real-life William Randolph Hearst, who generously fanned the flames of the Spanish-American war, making the sinking of the Maine, a U.S. warship, by the Spanish, into a casus belli. It was all a lie; the Maine exploded internally, on it’s own. No matter, a war was needed and so that decision made, a cause was created.

    The real reasons for the war included a U.S. desire to take control of Cuba and to become a Pacific power by seizing the Spanish colony in the Philippines. Theodore Roosevelt, who was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy at this time, advocated for the war as a rally-round-the-flag event to heal the lingering wounds of the American Civil War and as an excuse to increase the U.S. Navy’s budget. After all, they sank our ship! The press would wait until WMDs were not created to ever be that compliant again.

    Very much the same story in Vietnam. The U.S., imagining a global communist conspiracy rising from the ashes of WWII, began its war in Vietnam by proxy in 1945, soon funding the French struggle for years. By 1950 the first American military personnel were stationed in Saigon. When America advisors, and casualties, began to come to the public’s attention, and successes by the other side began to pile up, the real American war got underway.

    But with a more overt war, a more overt reason had to be found. That took the form of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, a claim two American warships came under unprovoked attack by North Vietnam. What really happened was far from that, but does not matter. Congress passed an enabling resolution and the war escalated as needed. They hurt our ships!

    In the late 1990s, The Project for the New American Century think tank developed its “compelling vision for American foreign policy” based on a “benevolent global hegemony.” They had nothing less in mind than a global war of conquest, occupation, and regime change, focused on the Middle East. The war was set, but the problem lay in convincing the American people to support it. “The process of transformation,” the neocons wrote, “even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.”

    The new Pearl Harbor fell into their laps on 9/11. Even then, though, another made-up reason was needed to justify the invasion of Iraq, the jewel in the neocon planning. The Bush administration made a few attempts to link Saddam to 9/11 directly, then to terrorism generically, but none of it stuck with the public, correctly confused about why an attack largely planned, funded, and executed by Saudis required a war in Iraq.

    In the end the decision to stress the threat posed by Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction above all others was taken for “bureaucratic” reasons, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said. “It was the one reason everyone could agree on.” It really did not matter that it wasn’t true.

    This was followed by years of conflict under four presidents. Along the way mini-versions of the same game, war decided on first, reasons ginned up later, were run to justify invasions in Libya, Yemen, and Syria. It does not matter what is true because the incidents, real or imaginary, are just like buses; miss one and another will along soon enough.

    These wars, from the Maine to Iraq, had no Pearl Harbor. America was not attacked, it wanted to initiate the war itself, and created a false pretext for doing so. Unlike with the WMDs, there was no question the Japanese bombed Pearl and that this was an actual, unambiguous act of aggression. It did not require a lie or an explanation or some 1940s version of Colin Powell at the UN.

    Which brings us to China, which appears to be the next war now searching for a reason.

    “The Fight for Taiwan Could Come Soon,” warns the Wall Street Journal, alongside nearly every other publication of note. President Biden has begun the propaganda spadework, declaring “On my watch China will not achieve its goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world.” Is war imminent? Will it begin in Taiwan?

    The reasons China has no reason to invade Taiwan are lengthy and cover the economic, military, and political spheres. There is no rational, risk vs. gain, reason for hostilities. But that is not what the historical playbook says matters. It may be the United States has already decided a bench clearing, superpower showdown is needed, eagle vs. dragon, for control of the Pacific. We just need to find a reason, given that China is unlikely to be a sport and invade Taiwan for us. You can lie about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction long enough to get a war started, but an actual Chinese invasion is a bridge too far for straight-up fabrication.

    Now it is possible the war fever over China is just a con inside a con. It is possible the military industrial complex knows it will never fight an actual war, but is simply using the threat as a way to run up its budget. They remember how the lies about the “missile gap” with the Soviet Union exploded the military industrial complex budget following WWII. A Chinese threat requires endless spending on the good stuff, big carriers and space forces, not muddy ground troops squandered losing to goat farmers in Afghanistan.

    And then boom! as certain as the sun rising in the east is red, last week Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said the U.S. was in an “arms race” with China over the development of hypersonic weapons that can evade missile defenses. His boss Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin lambasted China over its pursuit of hypersonic weapons, saying the activity “increases tensions in the region.” America faces a hypersonic weapons gap.

    An arms race would be the best case scenario to come out of all the saber rattling over China. If that’s all this is, it is well underway. But what if the U.S. has its mind set on a real war and needs a palatable reason?

    So, a challenge to all readers. On a post card addressed to the White House, what would be the declared justification for the U.S. going to war with China?

    You can have fun with this (Beijing kidnaps Taylor Swift and a rescue mission escalates into full-on war. Or China is caught releasing a virus that disables global trade) or geopolitical serious stuff about struggles for rare earth minerals. No cheating with statements pretending to reasons, things like China is an “imminent threat” or declarations like “clear and present danger.” Pretend you’re a modern day Paul Wolfowitz, handed the fait accompli of war and tasked with ginning up a reason Americans will buy. But no “they sunk our ship” scenarios. Been there, done that.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • The Price of Wokeness is Stupidity

    December 13, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy


    One of the great things about not being obsessed with racism is not having to go through the mental twisty turns required to see racism in everything. Of course not being obsessed with racism still allows me to understand that racism has played a sordid role in our country’s history. I can understand anger and the sting of discrimination because I, too, am a human being. But I don’t have to pretend moving from New Jersey to Manhattan to find a new job was for a free black man in the 19th century was the same thing an Irish immigrant underwent boarding a “coffin ship” hoping to survive the journey across the Atlantic knowing his only alternative was to die of starvation amidst the Potato Famine.

    That unexpected example infiltrated my life a week ago because of an article I wrote criticizing New York’s Tenement Museum for including an exhibit about a (black) person who was neither an immigrant nor lived in the tenement building the museum occupies, two of the criteria that kept the museum from telling the story of say any Haitians, Spaniards, Japanese, and blacks until now. The museum has told, magnificently, the stories of a handful of the 7,000 actual residents of its building on Orchard Street since 1988 — German, Irish, Jewish, and Italian families. I should know; I worked there as an educator in 2016, quitting after the Trump election turned the institution into some sort of woke bunker fighting imaginary fascism.

    After my article suggesting the black family from New Jersey’s story could be best told elsewhere, I became a racist. I’m not, but no less than the liberal coven at the Daily Beast sort of called me that. They wrote a story calling my argument nonsense, said I’d provoked an ugly fight by even asking questions, took a headline from a New York Post reprint of my article and attributed it to me as a quote, mangled another quote, and hinted I might just be a disgruntled employee seeking revenge over a minimum wage job I quit almost six years ago. Every story needs a villain and in 2021 that would be a old, white, straight man writing for a conservative outlet. The Beast even selected their “race and diversity” editor to interview me. They go hard in the paint, these folks.

    That’s how I found out how difficult it was to be woke. In order to shoehorn the Jersey guy into the immigrant world, the Museum told the Beast that the black guy, who was born free in America and was never a slave, left New Jersey for New York in 1857. The Museum claimed “though he was not an immigrant in terms of leaving one country for another, he was still embarking on a new life in a society with social norms that differed from what he was accustomed to.”

    So an immigrant from New Jersey? That sounds like the set up for an SNL gag except wokeness has no sense of humor. If you surgically remove the woke, here’s what the Museum should have said. Jersey, seriously? The immigrant experience involves being desperate enough to leave absolutely everything you have ever known behind on often a one-way trip, including but not limited to language (the early Irish immigrants spoke mainly Gaelic), culture, religion, food, profession, and family, cross an ocean at direct risk of life, and fight your way out of the status that you’re given when you step ashore in a new land overtly hostile to your presence, except for those standing by to exploit you as you cross that stern barrier at Ellis Island. I cannot see anyone seriously claiming that was the experience from someone moving from New Jersey to Manhattan, black or white.

    Well, check that. A white woman (photos show 11 of the 14 Museum senior staff are white, ten are women) so guilty her Museum doesn’t have a black guy in it that she is willing to ignore the base realities and somehow claim a guy who took the ferry over from New Jersey is an immigrant. That is what wokeness drives otherwise intelligent people to do, twist facts to match a narrative (“we have a winner, folks, nobody suffered more than black people”) rather than allow facts to create a narrative (America treated its 19th century white immigrants poorly, visiting upon them many of the same discriminations as it did slaves, because class and capital, not race, is controlling.)

    No less than The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) said it is also concerned about the Tenement Museum’s replacing its Irish single family tour with a hybrid story of Irish and black families. The Museum was quick to respond they aren’t doing away with the Irish, just pushing them toward the back of the bus a bit to make room for some 2021 white guilt. “The history of anti-Irish Catholic bigotry in the U.S. is little told,” stated the AOH. “The Museum proposal to eliminate it in favor of a ‘hybrid program’ only furthers the trend of airbrushing it from American history… The Museum’s strategy of pitting the story of one heritage against another is a recipe for enmity, which is the last thing we need in these divisive times. It would indeed be sadly ironic that the telling of the story of the 19th-century history of ‘No Irish Need Apply’ at the Tenement museum should fall victim to a 21st-century incarnation.”

    I am glad I remain unwoke. Unwoke, I see no special reason to celebrate a transperson won Jeopardy. I see no progress in an endless series of wordplays that means nothing actually changed, things like “raised awareness” or “increased representation.” Unwoke, I do not skip a beat when some made up superhero character is cast as Asian or gay or disabled. I remain free to ask troublesome questions. Wokeness, and flippant accusations that anyone who disagrees is a racist, shields society from asking questions, and creates a stage where any intellectual bull is accepted as long as it sells the narrative, whether at the Tenement Museum or the Daily Beast.

    At its heart wokeness is anti-intellectual, almost medieval, with today’s canceled comedians or perhaps the Irish of the Tenement Museum, as the modern Galileo.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Seeing the Future: The 2024 Presidential Campaign

    December 13, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Trump


     
    I punched Elon Musk in the nose. I figured, why not, he’s a jerk. Little did I know my punch would dislodge a chunk of artisanal tofu he was in the process of choking on and save his life. To say thanks, he offered to pay for a private Spice Girls reunion (minus Posh) for me on the next Space X flight. I hesitated, and he smiled wickedly and said “Or you could be the first man to test my time machine…”

    I landed right in the middle of the 2024 presidential campaign.

    It had been a hard run for the Democrats. After a harrowing primary season with several hundred candidates confused voters, the Party simply started listing them on the ballots as the black one, the gender-ambiguous one, Beto, the guy who looked like Beto but was from Ohio, and no-chance Governors I, II, and III. Even this proved too much, and in the end Democrats nominated a visibly intubated Joe Biden for a second term. There was no attempt to hide the fact that Joe might be technically dead, with various medical devices animating him. Dr. Jill would always be at his side and catching her lips moving while Joe “talked” was a popular Tik-Tok meme. Kamala was listed for legal purposes as the VP but made no public appearances. It was unclear she still lived in North America.

    Biden’s problems had accumulated over the last three years like a bad Sunday night snowfall. The Biden infrastructure plan, once called Build Back Better and priced at $3.5 trillion, had been ground down after years of debate to just offering free parking at some sporting events. A Dem plan to turn chanting of “F**k Joe Biden” into a joke fake Tindr profile proved embarrassing, as did suggesting America’s next aircraft carrier be named the USS George Floyd. Finally, after the Great 2022 Midterm Massacre, the Democrats gave up on actual legislation and stuck entirely to renaming Civil War memorials after modern day trans heroes. The final blow to Democratic power came when the Republican majority beat up the last Democratic senators in the cafeteria and stole their lunch money (“an attempted coup,” reported Maddow.) Colbert is still talking about it, threatening to tell a teacher on them all.

    Foreign policy-wise, Biden was further embarrassed when the Taliban legalized casino gambling and turned Afghanistan into a global celebrity mecca. The last Americans were finally evacuated on George Clooney’s private jet. Desperate, the Biden administration tried to pick a fight with China. Things got hot after a Chinese warship supposedly rammed an American one in the Gulf of Tonkin, but the nascent war was stopped by Jeff Bezos. Bezos, through quiet acquisitions, had secretly become the world’s largest arms dealer, and ended the fight before it really began by cutting off supplies to both countries. By summer 2024, the only thing left for Democrats to run on was the slogan “Red, White, Blue, Not Orange” and rumors Trump had plans for a new hotel-casino in Kabul.

    Candidate Trump had not yet chosen his running mate. Instead of the usual nominating convention setting, Trump planned an Apprentice: VP Edition live TV special. After vetting multiple candidates by blood type (“The 25th Amendment may require him to donate organs to me,” Trump tweeted. Yeah, that’s back, too) the candidate planned what the MSM dubbed “political-style Squid Games” to make the final decision. Behind his new signature slogan, I Won’t Tell Your Wife You Voted for Me, Trump filled stadiums. By the end of summer he had mostly abandoned actual speeches in favor of simply scowling from the podium and spitting. MSNBC claimed Trump was secretly messaging voters that his saliva contained magic powers, while CNN focused increasingly on videos of its reporters punching random Trump voters in the stomach under its new ownership by the Bill, Hillary, Chelsea, and Jeffrey Epstein Foundation.

    The real news from 2024 is that the actual voting process had changed so much no one was sure how a winner would be chosen. Championed by California, actual “mail-in” voting began a year before election day and allowed anyone to vote via Twitter RT for Democrats, while requiring Republican voters to solve a series of increasingly complex puzzles to reveal the one polling place open to them in-state. Texas on the other hand passed new legislation stating all voters would be assumed to vote Republican unless otherwise noted, and allowing citizens to sue anyone who voted Democrat outside of Austin. As the country approached November 2024, there were 51 distinct and radically different systems. Afghanistan, which had applied for U.S. statehood, was being allowed to vote in 2024 after Jeff Bezos’ personal intervention following his acquisition of 98 percent of its arable land. Bezos’ earlier suggestion, that all voting be done via Prime Points, was pushed forward to 2028.

    The future is grim. The once robust rumble-tumble political system had reached the point where the only viable candidates were two geriatric lab experiments. For the first time in history the sum of both candidates’ disapproval rating was over 100 percent. The voting process itself had devolved into something so crooked and complex the only thing left for the final fall from democracy would be to replace it with actual gladiatorial combat among Red and Blue voters. The absolute only thing American agreed on other than making AOC the permanent host of SNL was a bad idea was that no one believed any election results. The other thing generally understood was in the end who was elected president did not really matter much. No matter who was being kept alive in the Oval Office-ICU, nothing substantive was going to change. The real decisions were being made for sport and profit by the hyper-wealthy. Or it may be that we are just ungovernable. Seeing the future made the future looks hazier than ever before.

    As for the rest, I need to be careful about what I disclose but the new iPhone costs more than the last one. Mick Jagger’s pact with Satan for eternal life seems intact. The most popular movie of 2024 is Casablanca II with Lady Gaga playing the Bogart role, and the most popular job for recent grads is borrowing money from the patriarchy (your dad.) And don’t throw away those Covid masks, you’ll still be wearing them in 2024.

       

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Ode to CVS

    December 12, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: Other Ideas

    At some point in my later adulthood I came to realize what I thought of as my children’s precious childhood memories were actually my memories, of them. As they got older, I came to realize they remembered little of the details of family vacations, or the long museum treks we made them go on in the name of education. Those were my memories.

    Because we lived in multiple countries during the prime child raising years, those memories are spread out geographically, so we do not encounter refresher courses every Thanksgiving when we visit the old house. I can’t say if we’ll ever get back to some of those places (I can say for sure we will never organize the hundreds of paper photos we took that now reside in massive shipping boxes) so they really do now only exist in memory.

    Like CVS, the drugstore. Or rather one specific CVS, in Arlington, Virginia, near the apartment in for one year. That was where, alongside TV, my kids learned about America.

    Both kids had been born in Japan, and raised in Japan and the UK up to that pre-school point. This was pre-Internet, pre-megacable TV, pre-free international calls with Skype or its successors. The kids grew up with what was where they were, and even in England that meant very few bits of American pop culture, with what did sneak through filtered by British cartoons and TV. My daughter knew Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig, and Blue Peter before she knew Mickey Mouse and Porky Pig. It was a very big deal when a VHS tape of some Disney movie arrived from the US. We probably could have found more American pop culture to expose them to, even in Japan back then, but instead just allowed things to happen as they did.

    So in 1993 my kids knew almost nothing about American culture. It was the near-daily visits to CVS that filled it all in. CVS would constantly redecorate for the next impending holiday. Christmas was a massive occasion of course, but they did the right thing for events like St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day as well. The candy aisle with its changing holiday theme was an important stop, and for awhile the kids knew the holidays more by color than name — the green holiday, the orange one, the pink one. CVS instructed them on what to buy outside of candy as well, so we had plastic pumpkins and cardboard turkeys and Pilgrims at home. In those less woke, politically correct times, much of all this was mirrored in my oldest daughter’s kindergarten classes and she felt right at home having her tutor at CVS help her keep up. The funny thing was that many of her classmates were from Central America, refugees from America’s warlets there, and were learning the text book versions of things like Fourth of July and MLK Day along with her.

    Alongside mother CVS was father TV. Since it was educational, the TV was usually on to PBS and they watched Arthur and Magic School Bus endlessly. Arthur then was sponsored by Juicy Juice, and the juice commercials were animated bits that flowed along with the main cartoon. One day in CVS my oldest child shouted “They have Juicy Juice!” as if she had just sighted land after months at sea. She had not understood the concept of “commercial” and just assumed those were less interesting parts of the show. The connection between advertising and what was on the CVS shelves was a major life event: you could buy that stuff.

    It was through this, and joining Girl Scouts, that my Japanese wife learned how a certain kind of American eats. She had never seen an open can of Spaghetti O’s, or a lunchables package, or made Hamburger Helper or Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. But as each of these miracle products was advertised on Blue’s Clues, or eaten at a Girl Scout event, it moved into our kitchen, at least for one try. The biggest disaster was the Hamburger Helper in that my wife did not know she was supposed to add meat; she thought everything came in the box. Dumping all that meatless goop on hamburger buns to make Sloppy Joes did not make things better. Baloney, pork rinds, and sugared breakfast cereals were purchased, sniffed, and discarded. There was a lot to learn.

    I should have been a better father, or at least a more American father, but instead I relied on CVS as a surrogate. I remember, even if my kids do not, the simple pleasures of rediscovering those “American” things on each visit to CVS. Thanks.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Wishing Trump Away from 2024

    December 8, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Trump

     
    The Democrats only possible path forward is to ensure Trump does not run in 2024. They want to lock him in jail.

    With only three years left to go, the 2024 race is narrowing quickly to Trump versus Some Democrat. By election day President Biden will be a vaguely sentient 82, VP Harris likely will have left the country, and the Dem’s rainbow coalition of identity claimants will quickly winnow itself down to nobody as their collective lack of experience devalues their various claims of victimhood. What to do about Trump?

    You can convince a group of Americans for awhile Trump is a Russian agent, or violated an Emoluments Clause thingie they never heard of, just by saying it over and over. The problem is once the accusation reaches the judicial system, the Maddow-Goebbels Gambit withers. Once in the courts, words like “fraud” have very specific meanings. Treason, and anything that brushes against free speech such as incitement, have long trails of precedence. Even for something as basic as the Kyle Rittenhouse self-defense case, any first year law student will tell you there are five elements that need to be met. If the jury agrees they were met, the defendant walks, whether BL really M or not. The rule of law means those tests apply no matter how certain the public is that Rittenhouse is a murdering white supremacist. Or Trump an immoral misogynist. Of course what the Dems really want is a law making “being Trump” illegal. But in America those things are still weighed by elections.

    Everyone is familiar with the litany of such failures to turn belief into crime over the last four years — Emoluments Clause, Russiagate, impeachments I and II, Stormy Daniels, obstruction of justice, and incitement. On the sidelines were extra-judicial attempts connected with the 25th Amendment, having doctors who never examined the man declaring Trump mentally ill, and even accusations of incest. The Southern District of New York previously failed to indict Trump’s children and failed to prosecute Paul Manafort. E. Jean Carroll’s rape-cum-defamation case was so egregiously lousy even the Biden DOJ took Trump’s side.

    One of the latest rumored prosecutions-to-come involves Trump under-valuing properties for tax reasons, then over-valuing them to get loans, which despite the banks involved being happy enough with the terms after their own due diligence, Dems think maybe could be some kind of fraud. This kind of property valuation switch is practically New York City’s official sport, and is often and well-played by many property owners a few billion dollars short of Trump. The regulations governing how one values a NY property are thick. Built into the law is an automatic fudge allowing the same property to have both a high market value and a lower asset value. Problems are sorted out as civil matters and usually settled with the city sending out a bill, especially if the bank is not claiming fraud, only the DA, as in Trump’s case. “New York’s property tax system,” wrote Bloomberg, “is demonstrably inaccurate and unfair.” Michael Cohen, recently in prison for being a liar, is trying for another round in the spotlight claiming he has the evidence. To think the Dems will ignite righteous anger among voters with something this dense is quite funny.

    All the smoking guns fired blanks. Behind every attempt to overturn the election was a certainty by the zealots that Trump must be guilty of something. Yet it all failed. Trump served out his term. He is not in jail. But “just you wait!” remains an ever-weaker rallying cry heard by ever-fewer diehards.

    Like bad poker players, the Dems have all too obviously tipped their hand on their 2024 strategy. The full-court press will, sadly, focus on January 6, an out-of-hand riot wished into a second life as a coup, an insurrection, or an overthrow attempt. The characterization is silly; among other things, a coup must have some path towards success, in this case, preventing Joe Biden from becoming president. The rioters at best might have delayed the largely ceremonial counting of the Electoral College votes until the next day. They didn’t even get that done.

    As before, the truth is of little importance. The Daily Beast is one of many outlets claiming “If Merrick Garland Doesn’t Charge Trump and His Coup Plotters, Our Democracy Is Toast.” The article does not mention any specific, chargeable crime Trump is to be charged with, though it mentions the words coup and abuse of power a lot. Like all of its lot, it does not address the gaping question of why the actual Capitol rioters have only been charged with things like trespassing, and not treason or sedition. Surely as what one journalist called the armed wing of the Republican Party (comparing them to the IRA and Sinn Fein) some of the January 6 cosplayers should by now be charged with something serious enough to warrant fears the Republic itself hangs by a thread.

    Since the Democrats have no viable 2024 candidate, and since Trump’s support remains high, the only way to defeat him is by some non-electoral process just short of Dealey Plaza. Political prosecutions are not new in America. Political pogroms are. There has never in our history been a more sustained yet unsuccessful judicial effort to oust or destroy one man.

    The Democrats, so used to failing at this, are also not looking at the secondary effects of their dirty work, specifically wearing out the public they seek to influence against Trump. After four years of faux scandals being spiked into the public’s veins, how many more times can they try the same game before voters simply stop listening? Meanwhile, every shot at Trump that misses only increases support among his own followers as the candidate brags about beating the charges again. When non-supporters begin to ask themselves if indeed Trump is right when he claims persecution, the Dems have already lost.

       

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Want War with China? You Can Help!

    December 8, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Biden, Iraq, Military, Trump


    In one of the great scenes in the movie Citizen Kane, newspaper publisher Charles Kane, in desperate need of headlines to boost circulation, decides a patriotic war would be just the thing. When his reporters fail to find evidence of imminent hostilities, Kane famously bellows “I’ll supply the war, you supply the pictures!”

    Kane is directly modeled after the real-life William Randolph Hearst, who generously fanned the flames of the Spanish-American war, making the sinking of the Maine, a U.S. warship, by the Spanish, into a casus belli. It was all a lie; the Maine exploded internally, on it’s own. No matter, a war was needed and so that decision made, a cause was created. The real reasons for the war included a U.S. desire to take control of Cuba and to become a Pacific power by seizing the Spanish colony in the Philippines. Theodore Roosevelt, who was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy at this time, advocated for the war as a rally-round-the-flag event to heal the lingering wounds of the American Civil War and as an excuse to increase the U.S. Navy’s budget. After all, they sank our ship! The press would wait until WMDs were created to ever be that compliant again.

    Very much the same story in Vietnam. The U.S., imagining a global communist conspiracy rising from the ashes of WWII, began its war in Vietnam by proxy in 1945, soon funding the French struggle for years. By 1950 the first American military personnel were stationed in Saigon. When America advisors, and casualties, began to come to the public’s attention, and successes by the other side began to pile up, the real American war got underway. But with a more overt war, a more overt reason had to be found. That took the form of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, a claim two American warships came under unprovoked attack by the North. What really happened was far from that, but does not matter. Congress passed an enabling resolution and the war escalated as needed. They hurt our ships!

    There are even historic breadcrumbs suggesting the U.S. purposely ignored warnings about an impending attack on Pearl Harbor, knowing it was soon enough going to war with Japan. Allowing the attack to happen was a good excuse to escalate America’s growing role supplying war material to Britain to outright combat, given the public’s reluctance to go to war absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event. They sank our ships!

    In the late 1990s, The Project for the New American Century think tank developed its “compelling vision for American foreign policy” based on a “benevolent global hegemony.” They had nothing less in mind than a global war of conquest, occupation, and regime change, focused on the Middle East. The war was set, but the problem lay in convincing the American people to support it. “The process of transformation,” the neocons wrote, “even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.” Somebody better sink some damn ships!

    The new Pearl Harbor fell into their laps from the sky on 9/11. Even then, though, another made-up reason was needed to justify the invasion of Iraq, the jewel in the neocon planning. The Bush administration made a few attempts to link Saddam to 9/11 directly, then to terrorism generically, even threw in some tall tales about his cruelty to his own people and gassing the Kurds, but none of it stuck with the public, correctly confused about why an attack largely planned, funded, and executed by Saudis required a war in Iraq. In the end the decision to stress the threat posed by Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction above all others was taken for “bureaucratic” reasons to justify the war, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said. “It was the one reason everyone could agree on.” It really did not matter that it wasn’t true.

    This was followed by two decades of conflict under four presidents. Along the way mini-versions of the same scam — war decided on first, reasons ginned up later — were run to justify invasions in Libya, Yemen, and Syria, mostly a creation of a mini-Pearl Harbor events in the guise of “he’s gassing his own people.” Genocide is especially handy as the rhetoric can be recycled — never again, America has to believe in something, we can’t stand silently by. It does not matter what is true because the incidents, real or imaginary, are just like buses; miss one and another will along soon enough.

    Which brings us to China, which appears to be the next war now searching for a reason.

    “The Fight for Taiwan Could Come Soon,” warns the Wall Street Journal, alongside nearly every other publication of note. President Biden has begun the propaganda spadework, declaring “On my watch China will not achieve its goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world.” Is war imminent? One report shows China just surpassed the U.S. in global wealth, one of Biden’s three tripwires.

    The reasons China has no reason to invade Taiwan are lengthy and cover economic, military, and political fields. There is no rational, risk vs. gain, reason for hostilities. But that is not what the historical playbook says matters. It may be the United States has already decided a good, old fashioned, bench clearing, global superpower showdown is needed, muscle tussling eagle vs. dragon for control of the Pacific. We just need to find a reason, given that China is unlikely to be a sport and invade Taiwan for us. You can lie about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction long enough to get a war started, but an actual Chinese invasion is a bridge too far for straight-up fabrication.

    Now it is possible the war fever over China is just a con inside a con. It is possible the Deep State really knows it will never fight an actual war, but is simply using the threat as a way to run up the defense budget. They remember how the lies about the “missile gap” and all the other “gaps” with Russia exploded the military industrial complex budget following WWII. A Chinese threat requires endless spending on the good stuff, big carriers and space forces, not the muddy ground troops we squandered losing to goat farmers in Afghanistan.

    That would be the best case scenario and if that’s all this is, it is well underway. But what if the U.S. has its mind set on a real war, as in Vietnam and after 9/11, and needs a palatable reason to be found?

    So, a challenge to all readers. On a post card addressed to the White House, what would be the declared justification for the U.S. going to war with China? You can have fun with this (Beijing kidnaps Taylor Swift and a rescue mission escalates into full-on war. Or China is caught releasing a virus that disables global trade) or geopolitical serious stuff about struggles for rare earth minerals or disputed islands. No cheating with statements pretending to reasons, things like China is an “imminent threat” or declarations like “clear and present danger.” Pretend you’re a modern day Paul Wolfowitz, handed the fait accompli of war and tasked with ginning up a reason Americans will buy. But no “they sunk our ship” scenarios. Been there, done that.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Wokeness Claims Another Institution; History Fights Back

    December 7, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Other Ideas, Trump


    When will our intellectual life return to normal, the place Socrates, et al, once left it, where facts come together into conclusions? Today in service to ideologies like CRT a conclusion is established and facts are manipulated or just ignored to support it.

    You can’t argue intellectually against something so profoundly unintellectual but you can still take note of it in hopes someday we will want to untangle ourselves. That’s why we’re visiting today the Tenement Museum on New York’s Lower East Side.

    When I joined the Museum as an educator in early 2016 it was a small, elegant, good place. Inside a restored 19th century tenement apartment house, it told the story of some of the actual all-immigrant families who had lived there, from inside their actual apartments. Of the over 7,000 people who inhabited that building over its lifespan, researchers established who had lived in which rooms, detailed their lives, forensically reconstructed the surroundings, and we shared that with guests. Rule 1 was always “keep it in the room,” focus on specific individuals and how they lived in the room where you were standing. Over the years these included Irish, Jewish, German, and Italian immigrants. There had been no Bangladeshi’s, Spaniards or blacks; their stories lay elsewhere, “outside the room.” It is the same reason there is no monument to those who died on D-Day at Gettysburg. That didn’t happen there. That story is told somewhere else.

    Imagine the power of telling the story of an immigrant family’s struggle between earning a living in the new factories demanding labor in New York, and the pull of maintaining their own religious traditions from their living room where such family arguments took place. Think about explaining sweat shop conditions in a room that was actually such a place. No need to talk about lack of space and privacy, it was literally all around visitors. The Rogarshevsky family walked this hall. The Baldizzi family put their hands on this banister to climb the stairs at the end of a weary day. They came home to this evening light in their parlor. They smelled the rain as visitors did on a March day. You could literally feel history.

    After Trump’s election everything changed. Our mission at the Museum went from telling real stories to “fighting fascism and destroying the patriarchy.” With our focus on immigration, we were given tips on handling what the museum snidely called “red hats,” MAGA-capped Trump supporters, usually parents visiting a hip child in NYC who dragged them in for reeducation. I witnessed an Asian museum educator say out loud without any concern by management “No more Jews, I want to tell my story!” Her parents were university professors from Asia and she was born in a toney NYC suburb, so I’m not quite sure what her story was. Narratives were rewritten, so for example the Irish immigrants went from suffering anti-Catholic discrimination in Protestant New York to being murderers of innocent blacks during the 1863 Draft Riots. Never mind the Irish family spotlighted by the Museum lived there in 1869 with no connection to the Riots.

    The wokeness which drove me to quit is now poised for a new lows in a desperate move to shoehorn a black family into the mix because of course everything has to be about race. The Museum is planning for the first time not only to feature the story of a (black) family who never lived there, the family were not even immigrants, born instead in New Jersey. To accommodate this change, the Museum will do away with its current Irish family tour in lieu of a hybrid to emphasize black suffering and deemphasize the actual life experiences of discrimination imposed on the Irish by “whiter” New Yorkers. They will build a “typical” apartment of the time on the fifth floor for the black family, an ahistorical space they never lived in, an affront to those whose real life stories once did. It would make as much sense to build a space to tell Spiderman’s story.

    The existing Irish tour is particularly important because it supports a classist, not racial, basis for discrimination in America. It forces guests to think through the roots of inequality given that rich white people already established in New York discriminated against poor white people (the Irish first, then the Jews and Italians.) That narrative is problematic in 2021 because it spreads victimhood broadly, and chips away at the BLM meme that race is the cause of everything.

    The story is also problematic in 2021 because it emphasized how the Irish organized themselves politically to fight back and claim a more equal place in society. Many of the Irish had entered the United States before there even was any immigration law, simply walking off ships into the New World. Later, as nascent citizenship laws demanded proof of several years of residence as a condition for regularized status, many Irish could not prove it, the purest form of undocumented as no documentation existed when they went feet dry. The post-Civil War amendments to the Constitution designed to overnight change freed slaves into American citizens with the right to vote also scooped up masses of Irish immigrants. Aided by the sleazy needs of men like Boss Tweed who were willing to trade patronage jobs for votes, the Irish began to prosper.

    If you wanted to ask the question of how the Irish did that, and later the Jews, Germans, Italians, Hispanics, and Chinese, but not blacks, you were once welcome to do so. In better days the museum referred to this as “introducing complexity,” asking questions without clear answers instead of imposing a pre-written doctrine on guests. No more. The Irish are once again not popular among the rich white people running New York, this time in the guise of the Tenement Museum. Their story will exist only as a sidebar to a black experience that never really was. It is a literal rewriting of history. What a shame a place designed to help us remember wants to make us forget.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Three Questions to Ask About America Not Fighting a War with China

    December 1, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Military

    Before you read another story claiming war among China, Taiwan and the U.S. is getting closer, or relations are entering dangerous territory, or long-standing issues may soon be settled by any means necessary, ask yourself these three questions.

     

    Why Would China Attack Taiwan?

    Over the last decade Taiwan invested $188.5 billion in China, more than China’s investment in the United States. In 2019, the value of cross-strait trade was $149.2 billion. Pre-Covid, travelers from China made 2.68 million visits to Taiwan. China applied in September to join the new Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. A week later, with no opposition voiced by Beijing, Taiwan applied to join as well. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner. “One country, two systems” has not only kept the peace for decades, it has proven damn profitable. Why bomb one of your best customers?

    Apart from the potential the nuclear destruction of the Chinese state (the U.S. has 10 nukes for every Chinese one) why would China consider a war that would provoke the U.S.? Total Chinese investment in the U.S. is $145 billion. U.S. investment in China passed $1 trillion. The Chinese are literally betting the house on America’s success.

    A failed invasion of Taiwan would topple Xi if not the whole power structure. An invasion is impractical. Chinese amphibious forces would be under fire from Taiwan’s F-16s armed with Harpoon anti-ship missiles practically as they left harbor. Taiwan will soon field a land-based anti-ship missile with 200 mile range. Estimates are China would need to land a million soldiers on day one (on D-Day the Allies put ashore 156,000) against Taiwan’s fortified rocky west coast, navigating among tiny islets themselves laden with anti-ship weapons. China’s primary amphibious assault ship, the Type 075, carries about only 1,000 men, and China currently has only three such ships. Its conscript troops are unblooded in combat. Meanwhile American and British forces patrol the waters. Aircraft from Guam, Okinawa, and Korea could shut down the skies, and decimate Chinese aircraft on the ground. This is not Normandy. It is also not another of the counterinsurgency struggles which defeated America. It is the Big Power conflict played out in the Strait instead of the Fulda Gap, the war U.S. has been preparing to fight against someone since the 1960s.

    No risk vs. gain calculation would end up concluding the best option was war. And discard the irrational actor scenario; Chinese leaders have always believed in historical cycles. They waited close to 300 years to end the foreign Qing dynasty. They waited out Britain for hundreds of years for the peaceful return of Hong Kong, same with Portugal and Macau. Chinese diplomacy is patient, not reactive. There is no fierce urgency to reunification. One waits to win.

     

    Why now?

    In fiction one of the important tools is the Change Event, the thing that answers the question of why now? Why did the mild-mannered accountant suddenly become a vigilante? Oh, his daughter was kidnapped. So where is the “why now” part of China-Taiwan?

    One of the most compelling arguments China plans no war is they haven’t yet fought any wars. No shots have been fired over the disputed islands, which have disputed for decades. Taiwan broke away in 1949 and the last shot fired was in the 1950s. Chinese troops entered Vietnam only after the U.S. began its own campaign of regime change there, and briefly in 1979 during a border scuffle. China joined the Korean War only after the U.S. threatened to cross into Chinese territory. Xi’s reunification rhetoric is essentially the same as Mao’s.

    China is an autocracy (unchanged since 1949), and has not promoted things like free speech in Hong Kong or Tibet, never mind in Beijing or Shanghai. We don’t have to like that, but it is nothing new and has nothing to do with invading Taiwan. China did little when some of the leaders of the Tienanmen protests turned up in Taiwan, another worried over “why now” event.

    My own first brush with a “why now” event was in the 1980s, when I went to Taiwan as an American diplomat. Taiwan was crawling out from under four decades of authoritarian rule, and taking its first difficult democratic steps. After decades of speech suppression, a lot of people were testing their legs, saying all sorts of crazy stuff about independence. Among ourselves we called it “the D word,” as independence in Mandarin is romanized duli. One emerging political party was even called the Taiwan Independence party, and was likely to grab a few seats in the legislature. The U.S. mission was fearful this could serve as a trigger to Beijing. “Big China” had made clear a declaration of independence was a red line.

    Beijing’s reaction was soon apparent: Taiwan’s stores started to feature mainland goods; the end of the hated Kuomintang opened up a new market. Even before this thaw you could sort of fly from Taipei to China, something that many people on both sides of the strait were desperate to do to visit relatives. The catch was the flight had to touch down in then-British Hong Kong. In 2008 these flights were made direct, with no need for the Hong Kong stopover. Today six China-based airlines and five from Taiwan operate direct flights. The line of progress has been in one direction, far at odds with war.

     

    Why Would Anyone Think the U.S. Would Not Defend Taiwan?

    Post-Afghanistan, some speculate the U.S. would not defend Taiwan. It makes no sense; if the U.S. stood on the sidelines as China attacked, that would end the post-WWII U.S. alliance system in Asia, and would temp war on the Korean peninsula. It would likely spur Japan and Korea to go nuclear. The global economy would fall into chaos and the dollar would collapse. Who knows what would happen to global supply lines.

    The Taiwan Relations Act (Biden as a young senator voted for it) says Washington will “consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States” and the U.S. will “maintain the capacity to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.” The language was purposefully written by the parties concerned in 1979 to incorporate flexibility without being provocative, and cannot be read today as a signal of weakness. Diplomats on all three sides understand this.

    I have been in rooms with both Chinese and Taiwan representatives, and PLA and U.S. military personnel. Though sabers get rattled, particularly in front of the cameras, every action by every player assumes the U.S. will defend Taiwan. There is simply no ambiguity. When Joe Biden broke code and blurted out the U.S. will indeed defend Taiwan it was one of the few honest statements by any politician in Washington.

    The U.S. has troops on Taiwan. The U.S. sells Taiwan some of our most modern weapons. Even as Xi spoke of reunification during the October political holidays the HMS Queen Elizabeth, USS Carl Vinson, USS Ronald Reagan, and Japan’s Ise conducted joint operations in the China Sea. The U.S. is selling nuclear submarines to Australia to boast patrols in the South China Sea. The U.S. frequently conducts “freedom of navigation” exercises in the area. The U.S. recently brought India into the Quad Pact against China, and convinced Japan to abandon its neutral stance on Taiwan. Congress will take up the Taiwan Invasion Prevention Act, which would authorize Biden to initiate war on China.

    China has no reason to and many reasons not to attack Taiwan. For 70 some years their relationship has become more open and more interactive. Strategic ambiguity — some call it deterrence — has worked. Nothing about any of that has changed.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Post-Covid 2021 Thanksgiving Tips

    November 25, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Other Ideas

    Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving (Not in Iraq)

    It’s time to admit America is facing a crisis. Families are going to have Thanksgiving together this year.

    Nobody wants to admit “We may die of Covid” was a better excuse for not getting together last year than “I’m stuck in O’Hara.” Nobody wants to admit chicken tenders from the microwave and a Friends marathon was actually more fun and way less stressful than cooking a mutant breasted 27 pound bird for 12 hours only to find that it was still a little under done. Even the Friends episodes where Jennifer Aniston wore all her underwear were better than Grandpa Mark’s retelling of some event from his childhood or the War of 1812 or whatever the heck he was talking about after four Amarettos. It is thus little surprise seven out of 10 young Americans prefer Friendsgiving to Thanksgiving with the fam. Surveys show two out of five young people anticipate biting their tongue during Thanksgiving dinner. It is unclear if they mean holding back on saying something or actually looking forward to self-inflicted pain as a way to get through the day.

    No, this year, because of the Thanksgiving Mandate, it is gonna get ugly. This year it’s family of origin not family of choice. Here are some survival tips.

    For Everyone: Anything with three letters is off-limits: AOC, SNL, NFL, BLM, CRT, CNN, Fox, Joe, Vax. Same for anyone known just by a single name: Kyle, Karen, Fauci, Beto, Greta, Brandon, Pete, #, Maddow, Hannity, and unless you have immediate family named “George” or “Floyd,” just no. Same with Loudon County, unless you actually live there and even then it’s weather only. Anyone without an advanced degree in the subject cannot discuss how supply lines, inflation, vaccines or masks work. In fact, things are the way they are in America such that microbiology in general is banned as dinner table conversation. Same for anything to do with law in Texas, Atlas Shrugged, Handmaiden’s Tale, and 1984. Nobody ever really read To Kill a Mockingbird or Tom Sawyer anyway, we just heard about the racist parts somewhere, so skip those, too.

    For Younger Folks: This would be a good time to admit your old man was right when he told you for four years democracy was not dying in darkness, Trump was never going to set up labor camps for LGBTQ illegal immigrant POC refugees, and a few Nazi cosplayers were not the same as Kristallnacht. Set some boundaries for yourself. You are allowed only one eye roll and one snarky remark per holiday gathering, such as when your dad says “So Trump wasn’t so bad after all” you can reply “Neither was Hitler — at first.” Also youngster folks, just let the heaving carcass of the turkey sit untouched on your plate; do not say “I guess no one remembers — again — I’m vegan.” Your parents haven’t seen you in a year, so ease them into that additional ink you spent your stimulus check on. Remember, for your parents your #Medusa tattoo is to them what their Trump vote was to you. Save announcements regarding trans anything for later.

    If you play nice on all those things you are allowed one bonus exchange over pronouns. Put your phone down. Do not fact check your parents in real time. Spend time not being offended. Pretend it’s organic or keto or paleo enough, Gwyneth Paltrow will forgive you. Basically, lighten up for an afternoon. Accept your personal life is a side dish for this meal, so have a plan to deal with that. Edibles are a better idea than taking the dog for her fifth long walk of the afternoon.

    Psychiatrists tell us traditions and rituals help sustain happiness and family bonds. Remember, Detroit losing and someone making light fun of anything that combines the words marshmallow + salad is a tradition. Calling your parents fascist AF misogynist racists is generally not, even though you did it last year over Facetime. Same with ironic “I’m thankful statements,” so no to “I’m thankful the patriarchy didn’t murder Colin Kaepernick this year.” Similarly, there is no need to remind the table that “kids in the third world are starving while we eat ourselves into a coma again, I hope everyone is enjoying dessert. I’m not.” Thanks in advance for not introducing the colonialist roots of Thanksgiving and the genocide of the Wampanoag tribe to your younger nieces and nephews over at the kids table. If you can’t handle when grace is being said, just close your eyes and think about how funny Pete Davidson is. Also, sorry, 1/6 did not change the world.

    For Older Folks: Sorry, 1/6 did not change the world. Set some boundaries for yourself. Only one Dad Joke (suggestion: What did Yoda say when he saw himself in 4K? HDMI.) You are allowed two “I told you so’s” about Russiagate among like-thinking adults before the kids arrive from the airport, and only one in front of the kids. Be magnanimous in victory; serve avocados. Put them on everything. Millennials love avocados. It’s their cat-nip. Sigh and accept your kids do not know any history predating Obama. Just let go of any pop culture references or hip hop stars’ you do not understand.

    One exception is Pete Davidson. If any of your children can explain why he is a celebrity, write down their answer and share it with others of us olds. Don’t panic, however, if they retort with “So you explain why your generation thought Jack Black was funny.” Just be the bigger guy and say no one knows. Only Joe Biden can use the word negro unironically. “When are you going to get a real job?” is better stated as “So, your Cousin Mandy said Indeed was a good way to find work in her field but then again she studied engineering.” Don’t ask “Are you dating anyone?” unless you’re prepared to know more than you really want to know about pansexuality and fluidity over a carb-heavy meal. Instead, try and make your kids feel at home — use terms like fulfilled, give back, and impactful, and say “research” to mean Googling something. Don’t claim music was better in your day. It was. Your kids will come around to admitting it in a few years but let that slide this holiday season.

    For Everyone: For gawd’s sake, remember, they’re your kids. They’re your parents. Kids do stuff, probe boundaries, overreact thinking they’re the first young person ever to notice the Constitution uses only male pronouns, and think podcasts make them experts. Your parents mean well, mis-abled as they are having grown up without social media and irony. They are your kids, good kids. They will figure out the people on late-night TV are comedians not prophets well-before your second stroke. Your parents tried hard, packed you horrible lunches they thought were nutritious, and thought they were doing the right thing not letting you have the car that night.

    Thanksgiving is just one meal built around food nobody likes enough to eat twice a year. It’s a Ron holiday, one for the fun Trans-Am Uncle Joe, so save witchy Nancy and the necro-animated Joe for another date and cut everyone some slack. You never know, next year you might not get to see them. Make it count and save the culture wars for the next phone call.

     

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  • Old Old vs. Old Valuable

    November 23, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Other Ideas


     

    I’m looking at a knife my grandfather gave me when I was in 6th grade. I’m about to use it on a new project, some 50 years after. The question it brings up is when does something change from being just old to being important?

    A lot of stuff just gets old. Clothing wears, the blender suddenly stops blending, paint dries in the can. I guess one idea is the thing was hanging around to be used and when it was no longer useful it just became old. This could also apply to people but that is a nastier road then we’re on today. We’ll stick with things.

    New York was a great place to wonder about this sort of thing because nearly everything there is old. The subway dates back 120 years, many of the apartments about the same, and a lot of the public infrastructure like park benches is in the same age group. They had all been patched and repaired over and over, usually just to the edge of working again without being “restored.” The subway system, for example, employs people to hand-make electrical parts from the 1950s. Newer stuff won’t work in the ecosystem as a whole so until someone rebuilds the entire switching network someone else is going to be hand-making old-new parts.

    The entire city is made at its core of old stuff that is tolerated as payment to live in the Greatest City in the World and all, but is mostly just an inconvenience. At some point a lot of stuff gets so old it becomes an antique, in a museum. For much of the rest, it is just old, not valuable, and everyone would like to have a modern subway like Tokyo or Singapore.

    Same for housing. It is nothing in NYC to have to walk up five flights of stairs to an apartment whose walls are only held together by cobwebs interlaced in with the asbestos. The tub is in the kitchen and the toilet has been used by literally thousands of assholes over its lifetime. If the lead paint is peeling it is just old. If the lead paint has been over-coated then the place becomes vintage. There seems to be such rules that can be discovered through observation, like what physicists do with the universe.

    The peak of all this old old and old valuable thing is the famous High Line on the west coast of Manhattan. Around the turn of the century it was a stretch of elevated railway spurs designed to move cattle from the docks into the nearby slaughter houses (the area is still called the Meatpacking District though many young people think the name is a nod to the area’s once-thriving rough gay sex clubs) and then the same tracks would then take the dressed meat off to market. It was a pretty clever system actually that eventually fell into disuse when animal slaughtering near to residential areas was seen as a kind of health threat.

    As the area fell into disuse absent the under-the-radar sex clubs, it proved to be too expensive to tear down the elevated train tracks, so they were just left in place. Nobody cared whether they would eventually rust and crumble or survive to be discovered by future archaeologists. They were just old.

    Then somewhere along the 1990s in one of those only-in-New-York stories only New Yorkers tell themselves, a group of locals still clinging to the cheap rent and gritty ambiance of the area decided to turn the elevated tracks into a park. They battled city hall, they cleaned up trash, they planted flowers, and they birthed the High Line.

    The thing about the High Line is on the one hand it is just a narrow park one floor or so above the street. It has benches and nice plants and you can walk there. The walk is mostly from one random location to another; only last year did a developer create a destination at the north end of the Line, Hudson Yards. Stairs to get on and off the Line seem randomly located, so the idea of walking nowhere just to walk is kind of baked in from the start.

    Walking on the Line is basically no different in theory from walking on the street below it. One’s first impression is “Cool!” quickly followed by “So this is it?” The secret unspoken real answer is the High Line is New York as New Yorkers want the city to be. It’s much cleaner than the street. The homeless and other street evils do not seem to go up there, instinctively staying below. Some of the last benches you can still lie down on in the city are on the High Line. It is thus not old. It is valuable.

    The knife my grandpa gave me 50 years ago is an X-Acto handle with a replaceable blade. You can buy a similar one in most art stores today for a few dollars. The range of hundreds of blades made for these knives means you can cut all sorts of stuff but the cool factor is a blade from 50 years ago will fit in a modern handle and vice-versa. They never needed to update or change anything; they got it right the first time.

    Sadly however, quality is an issue. My old handle is made of machined aluminum, and has acquired a patina after having been handled by me for thousands of hours. It is now a slightly different color about half-way up, right where it fits in to the fold between my thumb and first finger. The new handles are some kind of cheap chrome-like metal and will not change with human contact. The old handle has some heft to it, so you know it is in your hand, but it is not heavy. The new ones are too light.

    Same on the blades. I actually have a few 50-year-old blades as well. They are sharp enough to shave with (bloody but the experiment was once done by a younger me) and made of real steel. They rust. Newer blades do not hold their edge and do not rust. They are not as sharp and are too thin. They tend to bend on long cuts, producing a wavy edge.

    One major design flaw has never been corrected. The knife handle is round, a tube. It rolls around whatever surface you place it on and with all the weight in the tip with the blade and tightening collar, it will absolutely always fall point first. It has pierced my thigh more than once, went into my bare foot more than once. Anyone who uses such a knife puts tape or some kind of bit of foam rubber on the end to stop the knife from rolling. You can always tell the newbies by their knives.

    Grandpa originally gave me the knife for a science fair project. My topic was volcanoes and the plan was to create a large, 3D map-model of Hawaii to show how volcanoes formed the land. Hawaii was chosen because Hawaii was everywhere in the media at the time, focused on the original Hawaii 5-0 TV show. My plan to free-hand sketch the islands on a piece of wood and then glop some plaster into little lumps of hills was intercepted by my grandfather. He thought of himself as a craftsman, and decided this was a learning opportunity for me.

    We got a small map of Hawaii and he taught me to take measurements with a protractor and drawing compass off the map. We’d then do math to enlarge those measurements and transfer them to the large piece of heavy paper that would be a template for my science fair display board. So with the compass I would measure say the distance from Honolulu to the airport as 1/8th inch on the small map. We’d then multiple that by say 5, and on the big piece of paper I’d reproduce it as a distance of 5/8ths of an inch. It would be 100 percent accurate!

    I was expected to create these 5x maps for all the major islands. Then, using the X-Acto knife grandpa gave me, I would carefully cut each island out of the heavy paper and glue it to a big piece of plywood. We would then mix up plaster to sculpt all the volcanic mountains on top of that. The problem was that doing this all the way my grandpa suggested would take approximately one million years. I may or may not have painstakingly outlined one of the smaller islands this way but as the science fair deadline came closer and closer and I grew more bored and frustrated by the process, Hawaii did not form from my plaster sea.

    I am ashamed even now to admit my grandpa finished the thing for me. In the end he sketched the islands by hand, mixed paint with the plaster so the islands would at least be brown, and used a sponge to texture the “ocean” portion of paint a bit so you knew it was the ocean. The plaster was barely dry when I carried the project to school. I got a shitty grade because I had left no time to do anything science-like, just built the board, sort of. I might as well just have crayoned “Hawaii” on a piece of paper and taped it to the wall as a project.

    The good news was I got to keep the knife. I used it for all sorts of school projects and crafts, hundreds of models, as a letter opener, and of course dangerous plaything. I held on to it through a series of moves that started with me leaving my parents’ house at 18. The knife is a valuable thing. It is useful and still does its job well. It holds many memories. It is one of a small handful of things I have from my grandfather, most of them tools he used that I still use. That is old and that is valuable.
       

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  • Hiroshima, Syria, Wherever, What’s Different?

    November 23, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Syria

    America doesn’t want to know what happens in its wars. It wants to believe each war starts in righteousness, usually something as lofty a goal as freeing people from oppression or bringing them democracy. It then wants to believe our side is clean, as any force of righteousness must be. And then at some point it wants to forget about it all absent a few Business Class upgrades for soldiers flying home next week over Thanksgiving. But what happens when the truth, the overriding truth bigger than a single atrocity, peaks out from under the heavy cover of lies?

    You may remember America went to war in Syria in 2015 under Barack Obama. What was going to happen next there was a major campaign issue in 2016. The catch-phrase was whether either candidate supported “boots on the ground.” Trump, who did not overtly support that, did it anyway, and under now a third president some 900 Americans are still on the ground in Syria on a mission looking for a strategy. It would be surprising if one out of 100 Americans knew today we were still at war in Syria. Don’t ask Senator Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate in 2016. During a recent Senate hearing on Afghanistan, he declared, “I am relieved that for the first time in 20 years, children being born in this country today are not being born into a nation at war.” It is doubtful Kaine or more than one out of ten thousand when told of the ongoing fight in Syria could explain why.

    So it is surprising to see the New York Times front page an investigation into a more than two year old U.S. air attack in Baghuz, Syria which killed some 80 women and children. Though the entire strike was preserved on drone video, a precise death count is unlikely because the three weapons dropped, totaling over 2,500 pounds of explosives, would have reduced most of the dead to a fine, pink mist. Hard to count that. The amount of explosives used against these undefended human targets in the open was roughly the equivalent of that carried by a B-25 into actual combat during WWII.

    The rest of the Times’ story is much the same story. The 2019 Baghuz strike was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war, but was never been publicly acknowledged by the U.S. A military legal officer flagged the strike as a possible war crime that required an investigation. But at nearly every step, the military moved to conceal what happened. The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitized, and of course classified. Coalition forces quickly bulldozed the blast site to destroy any possible evidence. A whistleblower in contact with Congress lost his job. The New York Times pieced together what happened, detailed the coverup, and published the story last week. After the Times made its findings known to CENTCOM, a military spokesperson stated “We abhor the loss of innocent life” but stood by the airstrike as justified under whatever rules they were following. It is very unlikely anything more will come of all this.

    There is of course so much to be outraged over here but one realization is that good people were trying to report something very wrong through the chain of command and at every turn were blunted and thwarted. There seems to be no such thing as oversight or accountability. And yep, the whistleblower got burned.

    But the real outrage is the one not acknowledged by the Times. They treat this as if it is all new, headline stuff, the shock of civilian deaths, the coverup, the whistleblower himself the new target. But we refuse in our new righteousness over the cindered bodies of women and children to acknowledge it is closer to the norm than the exception. After nearly 1,000 air strikes in Syria and Iraq in 2019, using 4,729 bombs and missiles, the official military tally of civilian dead for the year was only 22. As a State Department civilian embedded with the military during Iraq War 2.0 I saw many remains of buildings hit by airstrikes. It was very difficult to maintain the illusion that that building, the one with four floors and multiple apartments, had held only insurgents when it was obliterated some night.We choose to only use the word atrocity when we can pin it on a rogue platoon or a sadistic SEAL. But when it all scales up to the use of modern weapons against civilian clusters it turns into some sort of quasi-legal event to be debated and tsk’ed over in the passive voice. Were mistakes made? Can we find a way to reduce it all to some avoidable/unavoidable error, maybe by one pilot or one Special Forces operator who can be punished at little overall cost to the larger organization that put him in the position to screw up?

    We allow the United States to portray its wars as precise and humane because in order to sustain war on an Orwellian scale it is necessary to believe that. We need to believe every report of civilian casualties is investigated and the findings reported publicly, a model of accountability. We believe these things so dearly that we are shocked to read what happened with one airstrike in Syria and rush focus on the coverup not the killing.

    The preferred narrative sounds like a Netflix series log line “One man/A handful of brave reporters knew what was right and risked it all to expose the crime witnessed!” We want to miss the coverup of the coverup, the one that hides what happened in Syria was because we were at war in Syria against a dubious enemy under dubious rules of engagement for a dubious purpose and, to hell with it, people are just gonna die under those circumstances. Same as in Vietnam, same as in Fallujah, same as across dozens of Afghan wedding parties. It is a conversation about the difference between combat and killing. It is the conversation America has avoided since the day it proclaimed itself world policeman and unilaterally declared our right to be right simply because it is us doing it, whatever it might be. Thus in 2021 we still pretend Hiroshima was the exception and not the rule.

     

     

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  • Appearance of Action is Not Action

    November 23, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Other Ideas


    It’s bad enough when someone actually thinks reposting a “I Stand With…” meme is an act of woke resistance. But when the problem is enlarged to societal-scale, it hurts us all. Nothing actually broken actually gets fixed, and a deep sense of cynicism is injected into the souls of once-believers when they realize they’ve been conned. We live in an age where the appearance of action is mistaken for action.

    So we are left to wonder about the point, other than setting the stage for more future cynicism, of the Google “doodle” this past Veteran’s Day. The illustration showed various vets, all appropriately racially ratioed, drawn half in uniform and half in civilian garb. One’s a painter, one’s a baker, and the Marine is shown as trans. The figure has a man’s face but half his body is in dress blue and half in a civvie dress. We’re left to wonder what the point is. Are Americans more sensitive now to the needs of male Marines who wear women’s clothing? Or is the illustration just a naughty stunt like a gay kiss on The Simpsons, a way of angering some made-up version of a conservative who was never invited to the barbeque in the first place?

    The same question begs with TV commercials, seemingly all of which now feature either black actors alone, or as part of interracial LGBTQBLT couples. Just like white folks used to, they suffer from bloating and tsk tsk over which paper towel picks up better. Google and Apple don’t seem to even let old people use their products anymore. It’s all very hip youngers with I-didn’t-comb-it hair skateboarding or creating or influencing. Movies and streaming series’ are exclusively about people struggling with coming out, going out, or staying in. Every POC who has ever suffered has had his/her/their story made into a mini-series with the tag line “Against all odds…” As time goes by, perhaps more older movies can be remade with black actors digitally replacing white performers, like colorizing old B&W movies.

    All the bad statues have been torn down. All the bad high schools have been renamed. Most Americans now know Thomas Jefferson was little more than a rapist, albeit with a way with words we will not longer talk about. All the bad companies we were asked to boycott on Twitter for donating to the wrong candidates or promoting transphobia are out of business. No one ever shops at the Home Depot or Chik-a-Filet or purchases racist bed pillows. And Dems, kudos. You got more women, like Kristen Smyrna, into office. In each election the media tally the faux progress telling us how many whites were replaced with POC, how many female Asians bested men, and so forth towards a mythical Übermensch trans black disabled left-hander who refuses to speak English, the language of the patriarchy.

    But what happens when an entire generation realizes one day it is full of baloney, that none of that changes anything? What happens when people realize after a summer of BLM violence Minnesota did not defund its police, and rising crime in New York lead to bringing back an anti-gun task force once disbanded as a racist tool? When people realize the Glasgow climate conference wrapped up with no real plan to reduce fossil fuels?

    Yet people still too deep into the con to see the con cheer openly for awareness being raised, conversations being started, dialogues opened, and all that as it it mattered. Black Lives Matter took over the hivemind of American media and academia. Major corporate institutions fell over themselves to “go black,” assuring Colin Kaepernick will never have to work a day again in his life. BLM became a third rail — criticize it and lose your platform, your job, maybe your freedom. But not much changed for the good and if you’re counting black-on-black gun violence things got a whole lot worse. Black men are systemically shot and killed in, for example, New York City, and no one seems to care because the triggers aren’t pulled by cops. New York saw its bloodiest week in late April, with a 300 percent surge in shooting incidents from the same week in 2020. About the only thing left for the movement is to arrange the lynching of white supremacy poster child Kyle Rittenhouse.

    Same with climate change. Delegates from around the world, including President George H.W. Bush, met in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 for a first “Earth Summit,” promising to stop wrecking the planet. A new global treaty was made, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. And yet… And yet Glasgow is the 26th time delegates from around the world met to again discuss change, without change. About the only thing left in the movement is to arrange the symbolic coronation of climate change poster child Greta Thunberg.

    It is important to understand these movements did not fail. They were never intended to succeed in the sense of actually ending racism or changing the climate. They were designed as political stunts, fund raising slams, a way to promote some person into celebrity status with the help of a compliant media. That’s the flim flam being pulled.

    We live ever deeper in a fantasy world where progressives convince themselves destroying old symbols, or creating new ones like Greta, will change real life. They have convinced themselves maintaining white supremacy requires having a statue of Teddy Roosevelt in front of the courthouse and expect somehow with the statue gone so are all the problems. Way back when an old girlfriend did me wrong I threw out all the photos I had of us together. I felt better in the moment but learned a hard lesson: symbols are not real life. Getting rid of them does not fix things.

    The failure of peace, love, drugs, and rock and roll to change the world in the 1960s eventually gave us the cynical and self-centered “Me Generation” of the 1980s. That era’s deeply embedded sense of greed and bland acceptance scarred us as a society. It is no surprise then mired in cynicism pretending to be resistance a generation today defines people like AOC and her squad as a success. In their terms of office they have passed no legislation or done much of anything but self-promotion and fund-raising; AOC voted against her party’s infrastructure bill to make some vague political feel good point instead of helping her constituents. Attention is treated as political currency when it’s just narcissism. Welcome to America, where everything ends up a grift.

     

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  • Russiagate: Proof It was Hillary All Along

    November 20, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Trump


    It was Hillary all along. The indictment by Special Counsel John Durham of Igor Danchenko for lying to the FBI demonstrates conclusively the Steele dossier was wholly untrue. Clinton paid for the dossier to be created and Clinton people supplied the fodder. Steele, working with journalists, pushed the dossier into the hands of the FBI to try to derail the Trump campaign. When that failed, the dossier was used to attack the elected president of the United States. The whole thing was the actual and moral equivalent of a Cold War op where someone was targeted by the FBI with fake photos of them in bed with a prostitute.

    Start with a quick review of what Durham uncovered about the most destructive political assassination since Kennedy.

    Christopher Steele, paid by the Clinton campaign (after Clinton’s denial, it took a year for congressional investigators to uncover the dossier was commissioned by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, working for the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, paid through the Perkins-Coie law firm) did no investigative work. Instead, his reputation as a former British intelligence officer was purchased to validate a dossier of lies and then to traffic those lies to the FBI and journalists.

    Durham’s investigation confirms one of Steele’s key “sources” is the now-arrested Danchenko, a Russian émigré living in the U.S. Steele was introduced to the Russian by Fiona Hill, then of the Brookings Institute (Hill would go on to play a key role in the Ukraine impeachment scam.) Danchenko completely made up most of what he told Steele about Trump-Russian collusion. What he did not make up himself he was spoon fed by Charles Dolan, a long-time Clinton hack and campaign regular. Ironically, Dolan had close ties not only to the Clintons but to the Russians as well; he and the public relations firm where he worked represented the Russian government and were registered as foreign agents for Russia. Dolan is credited with, among other things, making up the pee tape episode. Dolan also fed bogus info to Olga Galkina, another Russian who passed the information to Danchenko for inclusion in the dossier. Galkina noted in e-mails she was expecting Dolan to get her a job in the Hillary administration. Steele, a life-long Russia and intelligence expert, never questioned or verified anything he was told.

    In short: Clinton pays for the dossier, Steele fills it with lies fed to him by a Clinton PR stooge through Russian cutouts, and the FBI swallowed the whole story. There never was a Russiagate. The only campaign which colluded with Russia was Clinton’s. And Democrats, knowing this, actually had the guts to claim it was Trump who obstructed justice.

     

    That the dossier was a sham was evident to anyone who ever read a decent spy novel. It was a textbook information op and The American Conservative, without any access to the documents Durham now has, saw through it years ago, as did many other non-MSM outlets. See here (2/5/2018). Here (2/15/2018). Here (6/15/2018.) Here (3/25/2019.) Here (12/11/2019) and more. What was obvious from the publicly available information was, well, obvious to everyone but the FBI.

    The dossier was the flimsy excuse the FBI used to justify a full-on investigation unprecedented in a democracy into the Trump campaign. That included electronic surveillance (obtained by the FBI lying directly to the FISA court and presenting Steele’s lies as corroborating evidence,) the use of undercover operatives, false flag ops with foreign diplomats and case officers, and prosecution threats over minor procedural acts designed to legally torture low level Trump staffers (Carter Page, who the FBI knew was a CIA source, and George Papadopoulos)  into “flipping” on the candidate.

    Page in particular was a nobody with nothing, but the FBI needed him. Agents “believed at the time they approached the decision point on a second FISA renewal that, based upon the evidence already collected, Carter Page was a distraction in the investigation, not a key player in the Trump campaign, and was not critical to the overarching investigation.” They renewed the warrants anyway, three times, due to their value under the “two hop” rule. The FBI can extend surveillance two hops from its target, so if Carter Page called Michael Flynn who called Trump, all of those calls are legally open to monitoring. Page was a handy little bug used for a fishing expedition.

    What’s left is only to answer was the FBI really that inept that they could not see a textbook op run against them or that the FBI knew early on they had been handed a pile of rubbish but needed some sort of legal cover for their own operation, spying on Trump, and thus decided to look the other way at the obvious shortcomings of Steele’s work.

    “The fact pattern that John Durham is methodically establishing shows what James Comey and Andrew McCabe likely knew from day one the Steele dossier was politically-driven nonsense created at the behest of the Clinton campaign,” said Kevin Brock, the FBI’s former intelligence chief. “And yet they knowingly ran with its false information to obtain legal process against an American citizen. They defrauded not just a federal court, they defrauded the FBI and the American people.”

    The 2019 Horowitz Report, a look into the FBI’s conduct by the Justice Department Inspector General, made clear the FBI knew the dossier was bunk and purposefully lied to the FISA court in claiming instead the dossier was backed up by investigative news reports, which themselves were secretly based on the dossier. The FBI knew Steele, who was on their payroll as a paid informant, had created a classic intel officer’s information loop, secretly becoming his own corroborating source, and gleefully looked the other way because it supported their goals.

    How bad was it? At no point in handling info accusing the sitting president of being a Russian agent, what would have been the most significant political event in American history, did the FBI seriously ask themselves “So exactly where did this information come from, specific sources and methods please, and how could those sources have known it?” Were all the polygraphs broken? The FBI learned Danchenko was Steele’s primary source in 2017, via the Carter Page tap, and moved ahead anyway.

    From the FBI’s perspective, turning a blind eye was not even that risky a gambit. They were so certain they would succeed (FBI agents and illicit lovers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page exchanged texts saying “Page: “Trump’s not ever going to become president, right? Strzok: No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”) and Hillary would ascend to the Oval Office that they felt they would have top cover for their evil. After Trump won and the FBI’s coup planners shifted to impeachment, they held on to their top cover as James Comey presented himself as the man on the cross, aided by a MSM which cared only about a) ending Donald Trump and b) cranking up their ratings with dollops of the dossier’s innuendo. A mass media that bought lies about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and then promised “never again” did it again. 

     

    If a genie granted me a wish, I would want a conversation with Robert Mueller under some sort of truth spell. Did Mueller “miss” all the lies in his lengthy investigation, hoping to protect his beloved FBI? Or did he see himself as a reluctant white knight, having realized during his investigation the real crime committed was coup planning by the FBI and thinking that by ignoring their actions but clearing Trump he would bring the whole affair to its least worst conclusion?

    I suspect Mueller realized he had been handed a coup-in-progress to either abet (by indicting Trump on demonstrably false information) or bury. He could not bring himself to destroy his beloved FBI. But the former Marine could also not bring himself to become the Colin Powell of his generation, squandering his hard won reputation to validate something he knew was not true. Mueller split the difference, and kept silent on the FBI and left Trump to his own fates.

    This is the third indictment by Durham. Danchenko’s indictment, Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann’s, and FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith’s depict criminal efforts to get Trump. The arrest of Danchenko makes clear Durham knows the whole story. What will he do with it? Will he walk his indictments up the ladder ever-closer to Hillary? Will he proceed sideways, leaving Hillary but moving deeper into the FBI? Maybe see if Fiona Hill connects the failed Russiagate coup she played a pivotal role in with the failed Ukrainegate impeachment she played a pivotal role in? Or will he use the stage of Congressional hearings as a way to bypass Joe Biden’s Justice Department and throw the real decision making back to the voters?

    History will record this chapter of America’s story as one of its more sordid affairs. Only time however will tell if the greater tale is one of how close we came to ending our democracy via an intelligence agency coup, or whether Russiagate was just a nascent practice run by the FBI, on a longer road which led to our demise a president or two later. For those who belittled the idea of the Deep State, this is what it looks like exposed, all pink and naked.

     

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • The #MSWL: Where Wokeness Starts Its Day

    November 18, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Other Ideas

    When sociologists look back on how Woke Theology helped turn earth into a world of talking apes, they will discover the #MSWL. Hidden away on Twitter, this is one of the actual headwaters of all things woke, the way the mighty Mississippi begins as a shallow stream.

    #MSWL is a hashtag on Twitter meaning “manuscript wish list.” For anyone interested in publishing fiction, the road to a book deal is complex. Publishers aren’t interested in reading manuscripts sent directly to them because most are truly horrible. They will only consider reading manuscripts from agents, who are forced to root in mountains of garbage to find something “good” so they can sell it to a publisher and claim a commission. The agents don’t want to read whole books submitted because they are mostly awful, so they ask instead for a query, a short summary in a prescribed format. But even these are so uniformly awful most agents want to be pitched with a tweet (it’s called #PitMad, pitch madness.) So for Harry Potter, the author might have written “Boy wizard and friends learn life lessons defeating evil with owls and a big fat guy helping.” The actual Harry Potter query was rejected by nearly ever publisher in the UK, so the system needs some work. It is a poor way to evaluate anything more complex than directions to 7-11.

    So the agents now simply tell writers what to write about via the manuscript wish list. That way they would hopefully never see anything too original to fit into a tweet and they could shape the world of literature. That’s where we get to wakey-wakey time.

    Big time agents do not need to troll Twitter like pedophiles offering candy in the park. Instead, if you are a recent or maybe not so recent AmLit grad who can’t work at the New Yorker because they stopped hiring Caucasians, you can be an agent. On Twitter, the mass of these agents are white, straight female or gay male, with a tendency toward pink or blue hair, and liberal to the point where it physically hurts. Their bios (here’s a typical one) seem to describe the same person, just switching Sarah Lawrence for Oberlin and favorite TV show from The Office or Friends to “anything with queer representation.” They love cats. They love coffee. They love pronouns. They just hate racism, you guys.

    Just because their dreams were crushed when the trumpet player in high school band turned out to be just weird, not gay, they want to take it out on your kids. Through the #MSWL they demand only books with BIPOC characters, or LGBTQIA+ stories. They beg for marginal representation in tales, and often combine themes so the actual request is for a fantasy magical realism story featuring queer vampires who also excel on the school lacrosse team. Here’s one actual list: “anything set on an HBCU campus, all of the magical realism, mythological retellings, romance/love stories, all the millennial joy and adulting hardships.” They don’t like things, they “celebrate” them. They don’t promote women, they “champion” them. Oddly, often their comps — comparisons, things that they want to see more of — are based on TV shows and movies instead of actual books. So it is “send me the new Avatar” not “send me drama like Hamlet.” If they do list Hamlet as a comp, it’s only because some modern version appeared on Netflix with Lady Gaga playing the prince. One asks for books that will remind her of Nancy Drew computer games, seemingly unaware of the iconic book series.

    Some agents don’t even get around to the actual subject for a couple of subtweets, instead leading with “First and foremost, I’m looking to partner with folks from traditionally marginalized groups to help elevate their voices.” Others call for books that no one would possibly want to read, based on this week’s buzzwords: “I’d love to see more urban fantasy/paranormal romance that doesn’t rely on traditional government bureaucracy or law enforcement structures!” Sometimes wanna-be writers will tweet from their mom’s basement at the agents seeking more details, as in “How do you feel about the unseelie taking the form of conservative Christian preachers to start the apocalypse?” The agent responded “I’m really, really picky about apocalypse stories to be quite honest” to which another would-be writer replied “Honestly, this was an element in an urban fantasy setting idea I was fleshing out. Vampires had just gotten out of a civil war where the old vampire patriarchs were toppled and a crop of women vampires were in charge now and trying to both figure out how to survive ethically.” Better to write to this prompt: “I want a story with this vibe: Three women discovered they were dating the same man. They dumped him and went on a months-long road trip together.” Just lean hard into sisterhood and you’ll hit most of the #MSWL requests.

    They have no idea how shallow it is the say they “only want books that are compelling, with great characters and plotting” like they discovered that insight. They know nothing about hypocrisy, how demanding a narrow list of subjects is supposed to be supporting diversity, or how marginalizing white writers is a poor start toward championing others. Straight was boring until gay was scary and now that gay is dull it has to be trans.

    So when you wonder how we got from Clifford the Big Red Dog to drag queens reading children’s books about anal sex out loud in public libraries, it starts with the #MSWL and its over-schooled and under-educated agents imaging their role is to be the shock troops of social justice. Never mind that most of what they do contributes little to social justice, that’s not even the point. The point is to win feel good points and prove you were sincere in that winter semester same-sex fling, not just experimenting. And make no mistake, yep, they’re coming for your kids.

     

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  • A Constitutional Crisis If You Will Keep It: Vax Mandates

    November 16, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Democracy

    Sometimes a thing can be two things at once, one good and one bad. That requires a choice. In a free society that choice is usually best made by the individual affected. If not, then by an open, democratic process. That is not what’s happening with the vax mandate and why the cure may be worse than the disease. Literally and metaphorically.

    It is best to be clear: Like many people, I am, by my choice, thrice vaccinated. I understand the Covid vaccine prevents me from getting sick. I am not anti-science. But vax mandates are an unhealthy thing for our democracy and represent a willful effort by government to exert additional control over an already cowed population. There is a direct line between the Patriot Act, mass surveillance, and vax mandates that allows claims it is all for our own good when it is more broadly for our own bad. We are going to have to chose. This is about politics, not medicine anymore.

    Whatever you call a country where a central authority makes unilateral decisions which control its peoples’ lives at a granular level, that is now what America has become. In escalation of that new reality, the Biden administration announced a mandate requiring U.S. employers with 100 or more workers to ensure employees are vaccinated for Covid or tested weekly, likely at their own expense. A separate mandate requires employers participating in Medicare or Medicaid to have a fully vaccinated workforce, with no testing alternative.

    The first rule alone covers 84 million U.S. workers, or two-thirds of the U.S. workforce. People who do not comply will lose their jobs. Workers who test positive for Covid will be removed from the workplace.

    It is critical to understand that these national-level mandates affecting two-thirds of workers (for now; expansion is likely) have been imposed; there was no legislation, no vote, no public debate, no public record of who supports and who opposes them. It all begs the question of if the threat is so obvious, why has this needed to be so coercive and sneaky? The Biden administration disingenuously created the mandate through the back door of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a sub-office inside the Department of Labor otherwise created to ensure workplace safety. The mandate places an unvaccinated worker (not a diseased worker) in the same category as frayed electrical cords and wet floors, a workplace hazard. OSHA, under threats of penalty, outsources enforcement (i.e., firing the unvaxxed worker) to the conscripted employer. Fines are up to $136,532 for employers who willfully violate standards. OSHA will carry out inspections and a whistleblower hotline is available to rat out your boss.

    The Biden administration is also requiring Americans abroad seeking to return to the U.S. to either be vaccinated or test negative, the first time in history something other than citizenship has been a criteria for a citizen’s reentry. The decision to allow an American Citizen to return to his own country, a right seen as guaranteed by the Constitution, has been outsourced to a local airline employee at a foreign airport in contrivance of any due process. That last bit is what’s new; even during the Ebola outbreak screening was done by American government officials at American airports. Not any more. By outsourcing enforcement to an airline clerk in Paris, as with outsourcing censorship to Twitter, Biden disposes of Constitutional 5A protections.

    All of this has been justified as a legitimate response to an emergency, albeit an “emergency” now heading into its second year and one which has been essentially put to rest in many other democracies, such as in Scandinavia, with much lower social costs. The problem is that what may seem like a reasonable step in today’s emergency will have a hangover effect when invoked as precedent in less dire circumstances for even more authoritarian rules. The impulse to map restrictive rules on larger and larger populations is also to be expected. In simpler terms, power seized by governments rarely is relinquished, even long after the urgency has passed. That’s why you are still taking your shoes off at the airport. It’s why after “two weeks to flatten the curve” we are talking about vax mandates and the government controlling who can work, travel, go to school. Like terrorism, who can ever say when Covid has gone away forever?

    There is some hope already visible. In his dissent on an earlier case in which the Court upheld a state-level healthcare worker vax mandate, Justice Neil Gorsuch expressed cynicism about what he views as the government’s protracted suspension of liberties due to the pandemic. “I accept that what we said 11 months ago remains true today — that [s]temming the spread of COVID–19 qualifies as ‘a compelling interest.’ At the same time, I would acknowledge that this interest cannot qualify as such forever.”

    The government’s history of such liberties taken with our liberty is poor. Think back to the powers taken by post-9/11 presidents to address that emergency. The result was ongoing mass surveillance of Americans in America (4A), a global kidnapping and torture program (all laws of decency and human dignity. 5A as Guantanamo is still open to house American permanent residents,) near-endless wars started without Congressional approval (War Powers Act, Article I, Section 8) and drone killings of American citizens abroad (5A.)

    If it was still about medicine we would be testing workers and travelers for chlamydia and tuberculosis, deadly and infectious diseases, and making a yearly flu shot mandatory (38 million people in America got the flu last year.) If we shared so much concern for our fellow citizens that we force them to vax, it is important to ask why we don’t show similar concern for their general lack of access to medical care for other life threatening things. Why only Covid? Why not malnutrition, an underlying cause of a third of children’s deaths, 2.6 million every year?

    Biden’s assertion of control over who can work and who cannot is clearly overreach when well-more than half of all Americans are already vaccinated. It is also unconstitutional. Cases already filed will inevitably reach the Supreme Court. The cases will likely hang on the hook of states’ rights, or the 14A equal protections clause preventing discrimination based on health status, for example, workers with AIDS. Another hook might be the government violating the 1A by taking it upon itself to adjudicate which religious objections qualify and which it claims are bogus.

    But the cases filed will not be at their heart about Covid, or medicine at all, but about our democracy. Any notion that public health demands the government take for itself the power to dictate who can work, or which Americans have the right of return, misses the point. Covid should not be the driving force of life in America. A truly healthy society is one where freedom is its core value, not fear.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • The Final End of the Clintons, Long Live the Democratic Party!

    November 13, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Trump


    The worst bout of food poisoning I ever had took days to run through me. Every orifice worked day and night to rid my body of whatever evil I had ingested and even when it was all gone it took more time for things to reset themselves. It was as awful as it was necessary to cleanse. And so it goes with the Clintons.

    The defeat of the Democratic party in Virginia in general and Terry McAuliffe for governor in the specific could truly be the end of the Clintons and a chance for the Democratic Party to reset itself from the self-destructive path it is on. It can heal and be a righteous challenger to Republicans. Or it might just eat another chili dog and puke through the midterms.

    Of all the things Terry McAuliffe is (mediocre former governor, race-monger, liar, visa fraudster, investment scammer) he is also the last bit of Clintonite political feces the body politic needed to have expelled to allow healing to begin. McAuliffe was co-chairman of Bill’s 1996 reelection campaign, Clinton-installed chair of the Democratic National Committee 2001-2005, and chair of Hillary Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential campaign. Bill and Hillary leveraged their then-popularity to help McAuliffe win the Virginia governorship as payback. In 2013, Bill did a nine-city tour of Virginia with McAuliffe, while Hillary raised money for him in California. McAuliffe had never held public office and wasn’t even from Virginia but the job was up for grabs in a state turning blue and the Clinton’s turned on the money spigot.

    As Virginia’s governor, McAuliffe was a campaign surrogate for Hillary 2016. Bill Clinton, disgraced as he is, actually still held fundraisers for McAuliffe in 2021, albeit in New York, not Virginia, an early clue to how things would end. Terry nurtured the relationship at every opportunity and got ahead, a reminder of the transactional politics the Clintons thrived on. Compare his political run with fellow Clinton syncopate Andrew Cuomo. After the departure of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros under the cloud of an FBI investigation at the end of Clinton’s first term, Cuomo took over as Secretary of HUD. You know the rest of the story. Of all the faithful, McAuliffe is the last vestigial limb of what once was a Democratic dynasty.

    To understand what the end of that dynasty means one has to understand the damage the Clinton’s did not only to America but to their own party. It was in part Hillary’s willingness to stay silent that allowed Bill to escape being removed from office for perjury and overall conduct unbecoming when he had sex in the Oval Office with an intern. Hillary demanded and got her pound of flesh, a walk-on coronation as a New York Senator (it was Terry McAuliffe who in 1999 personally guaranteed the mortgage on the New York home the Clintons bought so Hillary could claim residency) which would be her springboard to the White House. She consistently voted with the political winds of the day for wars, free from any morality. When she was beaten by Barack Obama in 2008, she took SecState as an obvious consolation prize alongside a fairly certain promise she would be the Democratic candidate when Obama retired (sorry, Joe, tonight ain’t your night kid.) She taught a generation of women and girls to have no self-respect, no honor, take whatever your man deals out with over-done smiles and understated pearls, and have nothing but appetite.

    Hillary’s destruction of the Democratic party continued with the political castration of Bernie Sanders. Love him or hate him, Sanders represented what is likely to be the last true set of original ideas presented by a mainstream candidate who actually had a chance at winning. The Democratic party’s willingness to destroy Sanders to press Hillary into the nomination left a whole generation of Sanders supporters, the youth which should be today coming into their own as the party base, bitter and disenfranchised. She casually threw away rural voters, once a Democratic mainstay, practically demanding they vote for her opponent after she dismissed them as deplorables. She welcomed silly social justice memes into the party thinking she was building herself a new base. She made the Democrats wholly dependent on the notoriously unreliable black vote. And then Hillary lost to Donald Trump, the only person to claim that title.

    What happened next was a void in Democratic leadership. The party went insane, with Nancy Pelosi and her crowd becoming serially addicted to impeachment and a collection of political curiosities like AOC and the Squad elevated to some sort of odd status (be very loud but accomplish nothing) by the media. It was clear no one was in charge. Democratic election strategy became a carnival game of try and dunk Trump. Mueller threw a few balls, until that broke down into a free for all featuring a quasi-coup attempt over a phone call to the Ukrainian president, graphic descriptions of Trump’s penis by Stormy Daniels, and ended with Trump being impeached after he left office for inciting an insurrection that didn’t happen. In the background the Democratic party imploded searching for a nominee, with people like Beto the Clueless Cowboy headlining for a few weeks, then a local mayor who got some tailwind out of being gay, and whatever Andrew Yang was supposed to be. The impression that no one was in charge post-Clintons was finally made clear when the system coughed up a crash test dummy like Joe Biden as the best it could manage and then limp into office thanks to Covid fear and media fealty.

    That scenario won’t happen twice. White women in Virginia recorded a 15 point voting swing to the GOP in the gubernatorial election compared to the 2020 presidential election. The setbacks in heavily suburban blue Virginia suggest a backlash to the whining about race and identity championed by Democrats. These voters are not white supremacists and to label them as such is to dismiss a parent’s rightful desire to see their child get the best possible education. The Dems campaigned on a very visible contempt for the people in calling them haters and racists needing to have their children saved from their parents. Dems, you went too far and you lost Virginia. It wasn’t about Trump, it was about you.

    The Democrats have a chance to try again. McAuliffe’s defeat frees them from the last of the Clinton influence, an empowering marker that it is safe to finally leave Bill and Hillary behind. McAuliffe’s defeat, based on social justice issues like trans-everything and racism-everything losing to common sense, can be equally empowering, freeing the party from having to listen to people like the Squad ever again. Nobody wants to see Biden run for a second term, and Democrats know there is equally as little support for Kamala Harris (reminder to all, she is still officially listed as vice president.) The Dems, finally, have a chance to find a real candidate. A first sign they see the light might be turning to jobs, Covid, inflation, and the supply chain, indicating they do understand there are voters outside Brooklyn and the Bay Area who care deeply about things other than climate change and transrights. Call it centrist if you like, though realist is a better word. If all the Dems have going into the midterms is some renamed school houses and recycled anti-Trump rhetoric (Van Jones said of the Virginia loss “Glenn Youngkin represents delta variant of Trumpism,”) why would anyone vote for them?

    The Dems need the equivalent of drinking clear soup for a few days after a bout of food poisoning has run its course, learning the hard lesson and coming back stronger. Or they can eat another couple of chili dogs at the first sign of feeling better and get sick all over again.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • What’s the Point of Cancellation (Halloween Edition)?

    November 12, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State


    I’m holding an old Polaroid, taken at a Halloween party at one of my early State Department assignments in the 1980s. One of my diplomatic colleagues is in blackface, done up to look like the minstrel player who was on the “Darkie” toothpaste boxes then for sale in every drugstore in Asia. You can see a photo of the packaging; the white teeth against the minstrel player’s face were supposed to show how good the toothpaste was. My other colleague is dressed as the Frito Bandito, a caricature of Mexicans used to sell corn chips. The costume theme for the night was advertising icons. In the 1980s these were acceptable ways to advertise and acceptable costumes for Halloween.

    But looking at the photo now I realize it is a weapon. Both my State Department colleagues pictured managed their careers much better than me and are in senior positions. There is no doubt in 2021 the photo would at least make it to Buzzfeed, maybe make a bigger splash, you know “Blinken Denies Racist Diplomats in Charge” and all that. It’s a familiar playbook today, an old photo pulled out of time and litigated in the media under the harsh light of 2021. The outcome is predictable — America has no tolerance. There’s a new rule that says people who used the wrong word or gesture, no matter how long ago or in what context or with what intent or no matter what else they did in the intervening years of their life, should not be allowed to work. Anyone in a public position, or who can be dragged into public, is especially vulnerable.

    The thing is neither colleague was or is racist. They were mocking goofy advertising characters of the day. One went on not long after that photo was taken to protect the human rights of a group being treated unfairly by the U.S. government. He risked his career to speak out, and made actual change happen in an organization resistant to it. The other colleague has done the right thing in a lot of difficult situations. The State Department is a better place for them working in it. I doubt either remember the Halloween photo, or realize how thin the ice is underneath them in 2021.

    But splashing the photo on some front page would accomplish nothing that matters, certainly nothing the self-righteous babble that would have to accompany it would claim. You know it by heart. Secretary of State Blinken would ritually say “We have reassigned diplomats X and Y pending their voluntary retirements. We have zero tolerance for racism no matter when or where it takes place. This is not who we are. Their actions fly in the face of the Department’s public denouncements of racism and sexism and its promises to be more inclusive amid criticism for its past treatment of black and Hispanic employees.”

    To be fair, the words I just put into Blinken’s mouth are not fully original. I stole them from statements the NFL made recently around the firing of Raider’s coach Jon Gruden. Emails recently surfaced, some 10 years old, where Gruden used language likely heard in any NFL locker room today. In fact, language used most places, albeit not by a white man. So in stories about Gruden we see p*ssy while on another page we read about a Pink Pussy Hat march. Never mind the so-called n-word which means burn the street down if a white person says it but is a term of endearment in a hip hop song. I guess Gruden was supposed to have thought about all this years ago when he wrote his emails. Same as my diplomatic colleagues should have thought twice three decades ago when they chose their Halloween outfits. In today’s logic, that “mistake” means Gruden is unfit to coach and my colleague is unfit to sit in an ambassador’s chair. The thing is no one accused Gruden of being a racist, or favoring players of one race over another. And I can comfortably swear in court I never knew either of my colleagues to make a racially-oriented decision.

    The people who believe they are fighting racism in this way spend their days digging through old yearbooks, watching hours of video, trolling emails and social media, and receiving hacked fodder from someone’s political enemy. The result is teachers, sportscasters, cops, and whoever else being run out of their career not for being a racist but for just using words some don’t like. These are not crimes of action. They are thought crimes, tied to a specific political theology.

    One of the latest thought criminals is Dave Chappelle. Chappelle, a black comedian, is under attack for jokes in a Netflix special “the community” considers transphobic. Netflix black and trans employees have expressed their concerns to upper management. Employees took to Twitter. People called for a boycott if Chappelle wasn’t punished somehow someway.

    I watched his show, The Closer. Yep, he sure said some things about trans people. Maybe the things were funny, maybe not. Maybe they would sound hurtful to some people, maybe not. But left unsaid in the trans-fuss was almost all of Chappelle’s show was about his dislike of white people. He actually explained that most of his jokes about trans people are actually jokes about how he hates white people. One story was about how he almost got into a fight with a transman and how the transman called 911. Chappelle as a punchline said something like “Dude was trans only until you need to be white to call the cops on a [n-word]” He went on to explain how he finds white fans who recognize him in public a bother while welcoming black interactions, made remarks like it was 1950 about “white bitches,” and so forth.

    We’re all well past noting the hypocrisy that racism in 2021 can only occur from a white person to a POC and never the other way. This Halloween, I bet anyone can go to a party dressed as A White Couple, with whiteface makeup, Bermuda shorts, a pink polo shirt or whatever racist clichés carry the message (someone actually sells such costumes as a joke/not joke) and no one would raise an eyebrow. But if you do dress that way, be careful. Someone may take a photo that could sink your career 20 years from now.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Where Have You Gone, Joe Dimaggio? (Civility is Real Dead)

    November 6, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America


    Pre-Covid I walked into a café in Florence and said “Expresso, please.” The waitress replied “No, here we say buongiorno first, we smile, then we order. Try it, it is nice.” That is a civil place. America has become an uncivil place.

    Almost all of us are convinced this is a broken place; the problem is we differ violently over what is broken never mind how to fix it. Most of us are sure our schools are broken. This is a very fundamental thing for a society, as schools teach kids how to live with each others (“values.”) But we can’t even come close to agreeing which books to read in English class, never mind whether the whole education system is simply an expression of systemic racism, with racism baked into everything else from whose history to tell, to the role of demanding precision in math, to which historical figure’s name is on the school building.

    The result is schooling by ideology. The wealthy choose among private schools, neat because it also means their kids don’t have to mingle with the poor kids. You can find a private school based on ideology, religion, a grab-and-go set of choices. Outside urban areas, middle class families buy their homes based on the public school that comes with them. If a family can move interstate, they can choose between the most conservative Texas public school and the most liberal school in the Bay Area, assuming conservative and liberal mean something clear enough anymore to act on. American children now get very different content educations, never mind qualities of education.

    One thing schools used to universally try to do was teach “citizenship,” the role an individual plays in a democracy. The concept must have failed, because few of us believe our elections have much to do with democracy. Too many have simply given up to the point where if more than half of eligible voters show up for a presidential election it is newsworthy. The election outcome is only fair when our person wins, or when the winner is a woman or a POC not Dave Chappelle over a white man. The system for choosing has become so complex few of us fully understand it, from registering to vote to districting to the Electoral College. The result is a large number seeking ways to manipulate the system (some justifying modern manipulations because of past manipulations they find unjust), and a large number giving up and voting based simply on social media propaganda. That describes a dying democratic system.

    Nobody expects much and is even then disappointed interacting with government. The lines are long at the DMV, the software to sign up for government programs doesn’t work, pressing button one for a representative is a fool’s quest. The only thing that generally works in day-to-day life is buying stuff. But buying things requires you to be on full alert lest an unchecked box commits you to a subscription, or an extended warranty you don’t want, or some ridiculous convenience fee. Of course even when the buying is easy the ending is broken. Signing up for cell service is swift online; ending that service requires long phone calls preceeded by long waits followed by “errors” which keep billing you for months.

    Each of us at this moment is party to hundreds, maybe thousands, of legal agreements. We do have the choice of reading a multi-page contract in detail before renting a car, assuming of course we have the legal knowledge to actually understand the full implications of what we are agreeing to. We can refuse to sign, but find quickly living without a phone, car, home, or credit card in 2021 is borderline impossible. The choice is no choice.

     

    All of this bleeds over into how we interact with each other. Never mind the street fights over black lives matter or the now scrums at political rallies. We don’t know how to discuss things, never mind disagree because we don’t just hate ideas, we hate the people who hold those ideas dear. What were once sincere beliefs now come in packages conveniently labeled “progressive” or “conservative,” no substitutions please. Commentary is just name calling and junior high-level mocking.

    We’re often alone together. We avoid physical contact or even proximity with each other, even loved ones. We don’t share things. Our communal spaces like restaurants are divided up into mini-bubbles. We don’t speak to one another about small problems, we call the manager. When we run out of big issues we discover microaggressions. The range of topics of conversation closes down more and more for fear of offending someone, facing a summons to HR, or a lawsuit. People are more hesitant to give advice or discuss an opinion for fear of getting in some sort of trouble, or being canceled, or being told they are mansplaining. We casually discard real world friends on “social” media over the smallest thing.

    We got rid of landlines because their primary purpose morphed into demanding we listen to ads at inconvenient times. Our cell call screening is spoofed so the phone’s primary purpose is to force us to listen to ads. Email is a struggle to use because much of it is forced advertising. We don’t check our voicemail because most of it is just forced advertising. We’re afraid to click on an article about insurance for fear our web experience will be clogged for days with forced ads. We have come to understand there is no way to opt out. We can no longer civilly just ask to be left alone.

    I worked a minwage retail job that required getting used to women screaming at me because some item in the weekly ad wasn’t in stock. Previously, the last time anyone screamed right in my face was in high school, when a psychotic football coach thought it was the solution to a missed catch. We join in today classist sport testing how businesses care so little about their employees they’ll fire them if one of us makes a scene. We video everything in hopes of settling matters by embarrassing someone virally. People devote hours to digging through years of someone’s history to find something politically incorrect to destroy what’s left of their life. Complete strangers profanely yell at me because I wasn’t wearing a mask, or had the wrong mask, or wore it improperly in their opinion.  People I didn’t know accused me of wanting to kill their children with a virus I don’t have. Others accuse me of hating them, or wanting them dead, if I make a bad word choice (even with the best of intentions, it seems purposefully hard to keep up) to describe their gender or race. Everyone not only thinks this behavior is OK, they believe it to be righteous. They assume ill intent on my side.

    Force us together and we attack one another. Our masses of crazy people turn like the Walking Dead toward attacking Asians. Hate crime grows like mold. Road rage is our national sport. We refer endlessly to “communities” which are just anonymous associations of people online who claim to have been victims of something similar. Our discourse often begins with “As a…” to make clear the separateness of being one gender or another, or of having had the same disease. Our differences become the fuel of victimhood and we loathe solutions that make those victims feel less special. The most spoken sentence in America is now “You have no idea what it’s like to be me because I’m a…” despite some 300 million of us sharing the same living space.

    More often than not the conclusion is violence. In a typical year, the FAA sees 100-150 formal cases of bad passenger behavior. But in 2021 so far the number jumped to 1,300, ever more remarkable since the number of passengers remains below pre-pandemic levels. Fliers know cabin attendants have become less civil alongside their passengers. What they take in abuse they return in passive aggressiveness.

    The lack of civility spills over into communal living settings, like condo associations, which come up with increasingly complex rules on how to interact with each other as a stand-in to civility. Condo boards, elected to handle simple community business like renewing landscape contracts, have turned into bitchy little Vaticans. They respond to residents’ complaints with pages of rules about masks and gym use, never mind those multiple pages already in the handbook about pets and stuff hanging from the veranda railing. The answer always seems to try to quantify civility instead of asking for it. As the rules multiple the residents divide those with the vice principal’s voice backed up by the condo’s jailhouse lawyers versus those who stop reading after page 49 and just don’t care.

    I’ve always loved the line from the Simon and Garfunkel song “Mrs. Robinson” that asks “Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?” as the best example of what writers are supposed to do, show not tell. The line sums up a feeling in America that a more ordered time passed without demanding the listener chose if that was good or bad.

    The yield of our behavior is a place where people don’t talk to each other, cannot agree on what their mutual problems are never mind how to solve them, a violent place, an unfriendly place, an uncivil place. Who wants to live like this? Judging by our actions, Americans. Ciao!

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • America Won’t Be Fighting a War with China over Taiwan (So Why the Fuss?)

    October 30, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Embassy/State


    The United States and China will not go to war in our time over Taiwan. China is not engaging in provocative actions leading toward an invasion. So why the fuss?

    I’d prefer to let the argument speak for itself, but my background is relevant. I threw away my Mao (and Che) T-shirt sophomore year. I don’t have a grey pony tail. I know Beijing is not a democratic regime, much like America’s allies across the Middle East and Africa are not. I’ve been in Taiwan when it was under military rule, and China under autocratic rule. The food was great, but I do not want to live that way. So none of this is about defending that. As a U.S. diplomat, I served in Taiwan, Beijing, and Hong Kong, as well as Korea and Japan, and speak a bit of all their languages. Many of my former colleagues, who managed their careers better, now hold senior positions in State’s China and East Asian bureaucracies. I certainly don’t speak for them, but I speak to them.

    Focus is also important; this is about war. It is not about China being unfriendly to democracy in Hong Kong; why act surprised, the government does not like democracy in Shanghai or Guangzhou either. But when we talk about democracy in the area, let’s not forget Hong Kong was taken from Imperial China by force by the British, who exploited it as a colony for most of its history. It was peacefully returned to China in 1997, not taken by China militarily any time along the way. Taiwan was an unimportant and undemocratic place inhabited mostly by indigenous people until 1949, when the Nationalists displaced the locals to create the enclave of the Republic of China. It existed under strict military rule, with U.S. support for the thugs in power, until around 1988. So democracy in China writ large is a fairly new thing. Many might wish to see America as concerned about democracy in Saudi Arabia as it is in Hong Kong.

    China has always been America’s as-needed partner, friend today, adversary tomorrow. An ally during WWII, the U.S. backed away in 1949 after Mao took power, considering China one more link in world Communism’s march to global supremacy. Then in the midst of the Cold War Nixon “opened” China and the place was remade into a friendly bulwark against the Soviets. In 1979 the U.S. diplomatically recognized Beijing and unrecognized Taipei. The U.S. and China then grew into significant trading partners until sometime during the Obama years when China, without a clear precipitating event, morphed again into an adversary (the U.S. called it a pivot toward Asia.) Trump, and now Biden, have since upgraded China into a direct threat. In one of his few unambiguous foreign policy speeches, Biden said “On my watch China will not achieve its goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world.” Biden went on to claim we were at an inflection point to determine “whether or not democracy can function in the 21st century.” Along the way China has always stayed pretty much the same. It’s our fear of the same China which changes.

    Those U.S. fears are mostly bunk. Take for example the boilerplate articles about Chinese “incursions” into Taiwan’s air space. Chinese aircraft are not overflying Taiwan. They are flying within Taiwan’s self-declared Air Defense Identification Zone. Look at a map of that zone, and other zones declared by Japan and China. Taiwan’s zone, the one Beijing is flying in, actually is large enough to cover thousands of miles of the Chinese mainland itself; PLA planes are in violation when sitting on their own runways. Taiwan’s zone also overlaps Beijing’s Air Defense Zone which overlaps Japan’s and Korea’s. Japan’s Air Defense zone also overlap’s Taiwan’s to take in a small island which is disputed between Tokyo and Taipei, a diplomatic fist fight the U.S. ignores. Criss-crossing everyone’s zones are American aircraft conducting “freedom of navigation” exercises (known in Beijing as “incursions.”) Chinese air flights are provocative only to the uninformed, or those who want them to be seen as provocative. Left unsaid: as China was supposedly provoking a fight in the air this October, the U.S. was simultaneously conducting some of the largest multi-national naval exercises in the Pacific since WWII.

    As for that invasion of Taiwan Beijing is accused of planning, no one has ever explained why they would undertake such a enormous risk in the face of little gain. Instead, the articles claiming Beijing is readying for war are like those science fiction movies which begin with the premise most people have disappeared from earth, or some apocalyptical event took place, and then the story of the survivors begins. All the complicated stuff is left unexplained.

    No one seems to examine the reasons China has no reason to invade Taiwan. China and Taiwan do loft rhetorical bombs at each other, particularly around CCP events and political holidays, while maintaining a robust economic relationship. Between 1991 and March 2020 Taiwan’s investment in China totaled $188.5 billion, more than China’s investment in the United States. In 2019, the value of cross-strait trade was $149.2 billion. Pre-Covid, travelers from China made 2.68 million visits to Taiwan. China applied in September to join the new Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. A week later, with no opposition voiced by Beijing, Taiwan applied to join as well. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner. “One country, two systems” has not only kept the peace for decades, it has proven darn profitable for both sides. As Deng Xiao Ping said of this type of modus vivendi, “who cares what color a cat is as long as it catches mice.” China might one day seek to buy Taiwan, but until then what incentive would it have to drop bombs on one of its best customers?

    A Chinese invasion of Taiwan would also require China to fight the United States. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which established the framework behind the U.S. relationships with Beijing and Taipei makes clear Washington will “consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States” and that the U.S. will “maintain the capacity to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.” The language, unchanged since the roller disco era, is purposefully one of strategic ambiguity. It was crafted by the parties concerned specifically to incorporate flexibility, not signal weakness. Diplomats on all three sides understand this. Anyone saying the U.S. needs to rattle sabers at China to demonstrate commitment to Taiwan would better spend his time trying to explain away our abandoning Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Arab Spring.

    Apart from the potential the nuclear destruction of the Chinese state (the U.S. has 10 nukes for every one China does) why would China even considering risking war with the U.S.? Total Chinese investment in the U.S. economy is over $145 billion. U.S. investment in China passed $1 trillion. When Covid shut down world logistics, everyone learned the American economy is voluntarily dependent on Chinese manufacturing and vice-versa. The Chinese are literally betting the house on America’s success.

    Because there is no plausible scenario in which China would want to invade Taiwan, we need not dwell on the military impracticality of the thing. A failed invasion of Taiwan would topple Xi. Chinese amphibious forces would be under fire from Taiwan’s F-16s armed with Harpoon anti-ship missiles practically as they left harbor and tried to cross the Taiwan Strait (Harpoons have a range of 67 miles; at its narrowest the Strait is only 80 miles wide. Taiwan will soon field a land-based anti-ship missile with a range of over 200 miles.) How many could even reach the beaches? Estimates are China would need to land one to two million soldiers on day one (on D-Day the Allies put ashore 156,000) against Taiwan’s fortified rocky west coast, navigating among tiny islets themselves laden with anti-ship weapons. China’s primary amphibious assault ship, the Type 075, carries about 1,000 men, meaning something like a 1000-2000 sorties. China currently has only three such ships. Its troops are unblooded in combat. Meanwhile American and British carriers and submarines patrol the waters. American aircraft from Guam, Okinawa, and Korea would shut down the skies, and decimate Chinese aircraft on the ground via stealth, drones, and stand-off missiles. This is not Normandy. It is also not the counterinsurgency struggles which defeated America. It is the Big Power conflict played out in the Strait instead of the Fulda Gap, the war U.S. has been preparing to fight against someone since the 1960s.

    But one of the most compelling arguments China plans no war is they haven’t yet fought any wars. No shots have been fired over the disputed islands, which have rabidly disputed for decades. Taiwan broke away in 1949 and after a handful of artillery exchanges in the 1950s, no shots have been fired. China never moved militarily against British Hong Kong from 1841 forward, or Portuguese Macau from 1557. Chinese President Xi’s rhetoric about reunification is essentially the same as Mao’s. Nothing really seems to have changed to the point where a stable situation has suddenly become unstable enough to lead to war, yet the Financial Times warns “The moment of truth over Taiwan is getting closer” and the NYT headlines “U.S. and China Enter Dangerous Territory Over Taiwan.” The WSJ decided on its own China is ready to “reunify their country through any means necessary.”

    The war fever splash in U.S. media comes with curious timing. The U.S. is provoking a new Cold War to ensure an enemy to struggle against, guarantee robust defense spending for decades, and to make sure there is no repeat of the “peace dividend” that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s the same playbook run from 1945 to 1989 against the USSR. Expensive arms development needs a target: the Soviet Union served well in that role until around 1989, when in the midst of declaring themselves the world’s last superpower, Americans also demanded less spending on the military. A new enemy was quickly found in various flavors in the Middle East, first in Saddam Hussein and then, after 9/11, in basically most Arabs. The terrorist boogeyman was shushed off stage this summer as America retreated from Afghanistan. We’re unlikely to return to the Middle East in force, especially with oil no longer the principle driver of American foreign policy.

    And so to China. Chinese plans to invade Taiwan may be the new WMDs, a justification much talked about but never to materialize. Chinese weapons advances are the new missile gap, and Asia the new frontier in the faux struggle between the forces of good and another damn group of foreigners bent on world domination. Indeed, if anyone seriously believed war was likely, even imminent, where are the calls for diplomacy, a regional summit, some kind of UN help, to resolve tensions? The U.S. doesn’t even have an ambassador in Beijing nine months into the Biden administration.

     

     

    However impractical an invasion might be, how unnecessary, or how risky, hasn’t China declared repeatedly it will reunite with Taiwan? Yes. But if you want to cite Chinese propaganda as evidence of actual intent, it is best to pay attention to the details.

    It was the United States itself that most clearly asserted the shared tripartite goal was reunification, declaring as part of the diplomatic break with Taiwan “there is only one China and Taiwan is a part of it.” Chinese President Xi regularly reiterates reunification as a goal, but always stresses the process is historical (as in, it is inevitable and we just need to be patient, don’t wait up for it to happen) and must be peaceful. Sorry, if you’re going to quote Chinese propaganda statements as proof of intent, you can’t cherry pick out only the scary parts. It makes no sense to trust Xi on the plan but claim he’s lying about the (peaceful) execution in the same breath.

    Not by coincidence most of these reunification proclamations occur around important political holidays. One of Xi’s most recent invocations was in a speech marking the 110th anniversary of the Xinhai 1911 Revolution, aimed at the foreign Manchu Qing dynasty. The chosen occasion is important, because Xinhai, ideologically midwifed by Dr. Sun Yat Sen, is acknowledged by both the most hardcore Communists and the most fervent Nationalists as the common origin point for modern China. This is drilled into every schoolkid on both sides of the Strait and forms a common vocabulary among their diplomats. The point is to understand Xi’s remarks in the same context as the Chinese, not John Wayne, likely do.

    In Sun’s spirit Xi reiterated a vow to peaceful reunification with Taiwan. He urged the Chinese people “stand on the right side of history and join hands to achieve China’s complete reunification,” invoking the way the people who would form the Communist and Nationalist parties worked together against a common enemies — the Manchus, then warlordism and feudalism, then the Japanese, and perhaps someday the Americans. Xi, talking to his own people and those on Taiwan, sketched a shared vision a long way from the PLA amphibious assault the West fears. Xi was also aware that the day before his speech HMS Queen Elizabeth, USS Carl Vinson, USS Ronald Reagan, and Japan’s Ise conducted joint carrier operations in the China Sea featuring the soon-to-be-nuclear-capable F-35 aircraft.

    Far from anything new or provocative, Xi’s rhetoric was consistent with 70 some years of speeches maintaining Beijing has no quarrel with the people on Taiwan, who are today mostly Mandarin-speaking ethnically Han Chinese same as in Beijing. Instead, the theme has always been a few bad apples in Taiwan’s government are preventing all Chinese from seeing they need to work together. To invade Taiwan, China would commit itself to killing Chinese, something that would cause Xi to lose legitimacy in the eyes of his own people; the Mandate of Heaven still applies. Meanwhile, on Taiwan, the current president more or less acknowledges the official line of a reunited China someday but quickly says there are more important things on her mind, like making money. Many in the West failed to notice it was Dr. Sun’s portrait which hung behind both leaders as they spoke. The idea that all these factors boil down to “China is gonna invade Taiwan” is beyond silly. America’s obsession with Taiwan independence is more Washington’s problem than Taipei’s.

    Philosophically Chinese leaders have for thousands of years believed in historical cycles. They waited close to 300 years to end the foreign Qing dynasty. They waited out Britain for hundreds of years for the peaceful return of Hong Kong. Such things come up in conversation with Chinese diplomats as casually as talk about the weather. Chinese diplomacy is patient, not short-term optimistic or spasmatically reactive. There is no fierce urgency to reunification. Sun Tzu: One waits to win.

     

    In contrast stands America’s foreign policy. A comparison of countries where the U.S., and China have military intervened post-WWII is telling. Chinese troops entered Vietnam only after the U.S. began its own campaign of regime change there. China entered the Korean War only after the U.S. Army threatened to cross into Chinese territory. Both of these events are celebrated in the People’s Army Museum in Beijing as examples of defending the homeland’s borders. The Museum, in addition, features an American U-2 spyplane shot down over the mainland. The Museum also has exhibits showing the U.S. purposely bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, killing three and destroying the diplomatic sanctuary. The U.S. claimed it was an accident, but history makes clear it was retaliation against an undefended target accused of spying in former Yugoslavia. How many American embassies has China bombed?

    China got its first blue water aircraft carrier last year; the U.S. has maintained multiple carrier groups in the Pacific since WWII, recently facilitated the permanent deployment of two British carrier groups in the area (their first big show of naval force in the area since losing Singapore to the Japanese) and will sell nuclear submarines to Australia with the understanding they will patrol the South China Sea. The U.S. recently brought India into the Quad Pact agreement against China, and convinced Japan to abandon its official neutral stance on Taiwan to support the U.S. Japan has quickly grown into a multiple carrier blue water naval force under American encouragement and with American technology; an unprecedented pledge by Japan’s ruling party seeks to double defense spending and underscores the nation’s haste to acquire missiles, stealth fighters, drones and other weapons that can target China.

    For the first time in decades U.S. forces are officially stationed on Taiwan. The White House recently announced the existing U.S.-Japan security treaty now extends to some additional disputed islands, and the Philippine security treaty covers Manila’s claims to Chinese-occupied islets. The U.S. maintains military bases in a ring around China’s eastern coast. Economically, Barack Obama via the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) tried to isolate China from the Asian trade sphere. Trump imposed and Biden maintains punitive tariffs on goods out of China. This autumn Congress will take up the Taiwan Invasion Prevention Act, which would authorize Biden to initiate (nuclear) war on China without any input from America’s elected representatives.

    So who in fact is acting provocatively in the Pacific? Which side is saber rattling, and which simply responding the way a dog barks to warn off an aggressor?

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Fear Itself, Covid Edition

    October 30, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Economy


    I took a friend of a friend and his wife on a tour of Chinatown the other day. She arrived double-masked and immediately asked if I was vaccinated (I am.) She didn’t say much or eat anything, her husband was the one clearly interested in new foods. The wife, maybe 28 or so, then had a full-on panic attack.

    We were inside one of the wet markets when the woman shouted “Covid, I have to get out.” She turned pale and broke out in sweat. She pushed her way through the crowd to get outside, full fight-or-flight mode. Outside, gasping for air, she said she suddenly felt she was going to “get Covid and die” in the market. I suggested sips of water but she said she would not remove her mask. The husband apologized. They were educated. No signs they were Fauci fans, QAnon shamen, or addicted to one biased network or another. What I guess we once called regular people.

    I felt genuinely sorry. This is what appeared to be an otherwise healthy woman who had lost her mind over an exaggerated fear of Covid. I see people like this, albeit usually with less physical signs of panic, often. They truly are convinced they will die soon. They are shelter dogs seeking to form coalitions of grievance. No safety measures, including the vaccine, can be sufficient when fear transitions into irrational phobia. I’ve talked more than a few friends off virtual Covid ledges. At best both sides of any sub-argument (say, masks) think the other is kidding.

    Meanwhile a new neighbor greets me every morning with the latest local case count and policy rumors, the way finance bros reel off the S&P numbers to each other before saying good morning. He has become a Covid enthusiast. The rest of us, we now snap at one another over petty Covid rule infringements — been on a plane recently? The lashing out is then justified by fear, because that means we don’t have any obligation toward self-examination.

    A year and a half ago I never would have believed I’d still be writing about Covid. I now have to wonder if ten years from now will people look back at this all the way we remember a particularly rough winter, or will this truly be something that changes us forever. Even at this point our lives have been altered. If you want to blame one politician or another, take that argument outside. It all matters less and less as the events become not politics but our history. Even with so much road still ahead we can say clearly our economy has been devastated. “Cashing a stimulus check” seems to be one of the Top Ten new careers in America, followed closely by “Collecting Unemployment.” Many people depend on free rent aka the eviction moratoriums, paused student loan payments, and the range of food aid. No one seems to know what happens when those programs sunset.

    Education has effectively disappeared for large numbers of kids and despair grows menacingly. A statistic which should set off alarm bells across the nation barely made the scientific journals as suicide attempts by teen girls increased 26 percent during summer 2020 and 50 percent during winter of 2021. We have forgotten the critical role in-person school plays in children and teens’ emotional development. All that rough and tumble adolescent socialization is there for a reason, along with sports and extracurriculars. They make kids normal and when you take them away from already fragile developing minds, kids want to destroy themselves. But we still do not ask if shutdowns actually deter Covid and we never ask what the secondary effects are.

    Economic inequality grows. The power of government exploded to reshape how we live, shop, work, and eat, all handed on-the-fly to a near-endless range of actors, from the president to store clerks. None of this was voted on, challenged, reviewed, studied, or even discussed. For people who spent the last four years finding totalitarianism under every rock, they seemed to miss it when it became obvious — a sense of things being out of control is what every wanna-be authoritarian lives to exploit. Americans cleaved into those who welcomed the nannyism as unfortunate but warmly necessary and those who did not. Things went topsy-turvy: once upon a time in a free society the burden of proof was on those who would restrict freedom and not on those who resist such restrictions.

    In the face of new dependence on government to eat and to keep a roof over one’s head, and with a core element of growing up stripped away from kids, and with the constant death harping from the media, how can we expect anyone to snap back? As with the pandemic of PTSD-driven soldier suicides after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have little to look forward to but the same thing coming for the rest of us.

    It sounds over-dramatic to claim some sort of national-level PTSD is metastasizing among us, but if you understand PTSD as a psycho-physical reaction to a perceived life-threatening event it makes some sense. In the early days of Covid, The New York Times set the tone, calling this a “land of denial and death.” Many of us are now convinced our vote is a literal life-or-death decision because the wrong party will kill us through their flawed Covid policies. We are convinced our unmasked neighbor is trying to kill us. We are convinced our government is trying to kill us with an untested vaccine. We are convinced the schools are trying to kill our kids. We are convinced the same teachers we are ready to trust with our children are lazy, lying bastards who don’t care enough about education to go back into the classroom. Who wouldn’t have PTSD faced with this onslaught?

    Anyone trying to think this through drowns in cognitive dissonance. One concert is a superspreader event while another is not depending on whether the bands are mostly country or hip hop. One protest is a superspreader event but another larger one is not. Disney is OK but Sturgis is not. The vaccine is safe but a significant number of medical professionals won’t get it. The vaccine works but vaccinated people still experience breakthrough cases. The vaccine works but vaccinated people still need to social distance. The disease is airborne but you have to prep gym surfaces like you will do surgery on them. European tourists are too dangerous to welcome to the U.S. but Guatemalans on the border are OK.

    It is unsafe to gather in parks but OK to gather on airplanes. It is safe to be unmasked eating at a table but unsafe to stand unmasked at the bar. A two foot plexi shield protects us from an airborne disease riding warm currents to the ceiling of the room before descending. It is necessary for nearly everyone to get vaccinated but leaders won’t mandate that. Masks and school and travel can be mandated but not vaccines. Vaccines for smallpox, polio, and hepatitis can be mandated but not Covid. Crossing an invisible state line changes all the rules. There are states with layers of restrictions and states with none at all but everyone isn’t dead in either one.

    We know it all can’t be true but in one place it is true, while next door it is untrue.  Alice herself could not make sense of it no matter how many mushrooms she ate.

    How can anyone retain their mind when the narrative for the last 18 months has been a largely false series of proclaimed death wishes: we aren’t doing enough testing so we’re gonna die, we don’t have enough ICU space so we’re gonna die, we don’t have enough ventilators so we’re gonna die, we don’t have enough masks so we’re gonna die, we don’t have enough nurses so we’re gonna die, we aren’t locked down enough so we’re gonna die, we don’t have enough vaccines so we’re gonna die, people won’t take the vaccine so we’re gonna die, there’s now a new stronger form of Covid coming so we’re gonna die. How do we keep faith when life is a video game where every time we surmount a challenge we are told something new has arisen to kill us?

    No other nation on earth is fighting two wars, one against the virus and the other against itself. Other countries have Covid. But they don’t seem to have lost their collective minds to where they can no longer tell the real dangers from the shadows, or judge the right amount of caution from a panic that levies the consequences of living higher than those of dying.

    At this point my question about the woman in the Chinese wet market having a panic attack has to change. The real question is not why she lost it, it is why the rest of us haven’t yet. I honestly do not know how this all ends.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Bad Times for the First Amendment

    October 23, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

     

    These are bad times for the First Amendment.

    The very big picture is bad. Progressives woke up one morning to realize they controlled the media. People who thought like them made our movies, TV shows, and most importantly, owned the greatest propaganda tool ever invented, social media. They could significantly influence not only which breakfast cereal America liked best, but also which candidate America should vote for.

    And none of it fell under the First Amendment. That old saw only protects people from government censorship, not corporate censorship or propaganda. The Founders never conceived we the people would want to have our media censored, or that companies would grow more powerful than the government to be able to do so, or that the age-old remedy for misinformation – truth – would become so reviled and feared. Of all the Founders’ omissions of issues unimaginable in the 18th century, this is the one which may prove fatal to the Republic.

    The big picture is bad. Thanks to legal razzle-dazzle aimed at limiting corporate liability for the garbage they publish, Section 230 of the Communication Act was born. This removed the threat of libel to allow social media to become an even more powerful influence in our lives. They could shove anything up America’s nose or down the memory hole penalty free.

    The law reads “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” In other words, online intermediaries that host or republish speech are protected against a range of laws that might otherwise be used to hold them legally responsible for what is on their platforms. So if Twitter wants to only include false happy news about Hunter Biden, it can. If Twitter wants to enable those who spew out out-and-out lies about Trump, it can. They ran amok with Trump and Russia, willfully promoting lies that were part of a professional disinformation campaign Goebbels would have looked at in awe.

    The Founders envisioned media as an essential element of democracy, affording it unique status in the Bill of Rights to inform the people. Social media repurposed that grace into an anti-democratic tool which works like this: a journalist “publishes” a falsehood on social media. The mainstream media then does a story about that tweet, cleverly using Twitter as the quoted source to cover themselves from any claims of libel or obligation to the truth. They are just reporting what was already on Twitter.

    This legal and moral sleight of hand allows places like the NYT to whore out their credibility to front page the most atrocious gossip – see, we’re not saying it’s true, only that it was on Twitter. The power of the 1A protects the NYT, which becomes a front for the partisan work of so-called non-publishers on social media. Think of it as an 1A reach-around.

    This willful journalistic malfeasance could not exist without the collaboration of the search engines to hide the truth. Search engines have become of the most politicized interactions of anyone’s day, shoving information and denying it in equal amounts, all driven by the views of, well, someone, no one is really sure who anymore.

    What we do know for sure is in the end the massive global media infrastructure was recruited to drive Trump from office. Where the effort failed with Russia, Ukraine, January 6, and all the sideshow acts of Emoluments and Stormy Daniels, it finally got enough traction to matter with Covid. Trump killed your grandma. Today the guns are all reloaded, and the media is already declaring 2024 stolen if Trump wins.

    The small picture is also bad. Journalists, who depend on the 1A for their jobs, no longer believe in its most foundational tenet: informing the public to enable them to participate more fully in our democracy. On a small scale, journalism is now a weapon to take 1A rights away from those deemed politically unsuitable. Here’s one case study to spoil breakfast.

    I don’t know Shawn McCaffrey or Christopher Mathias. I do know both of them believe in ideological purity. But one’s a threat to the 1A and one just likes to hear himself talk.

    Shawn belonged to Identity Evropa, which among other things played a role in the 2017 “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville. Chris meanwhile identifies as a journalist for Huffington Post and covers “far right, disinformation, and hate.” He believes Identity Evropa Shawn is dangerous because he is “racist, homophobic and hosts an anti-Semitic podcast.”

    Chris believes Shawn is so dangerous he devoted his own First Amendment rights as a journalist to stomp the wind out of Shawn’s First Amendment right to say hateful things, to the point where Chris and HuffPo stalked Shawn to discover he had enlisted in the Air Force. They turned over their 1A-protected “journalism” to a progressive-aggressive Congresswoman for weaponization, not unlike the two-step practiced by place like NYT and Twitter. The Congresswoman made the Air Force throw Shawn out.

    Why did Chris, HuffPo, and the Congresswoman go so far out of their way to get Shawn out of the Air Force? Because they believe people like Shawn join the military not to serve their country, but “to receive combat training they can use to inflict violence on civilian targets and can recruit other servicemen and servicewomen to their cause.” Journo Chris adds this is “a problem brought into focus by the prevalence of current and former military personnel taking part in the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6.” At worst only 15 percent of those arrested had some vague “tie” to military service.

    This game is not new for Chris and HuffPo. They got an elementary school teacher fired for writing things on “extremist” sites they did not agree with. The teacher also wrote for The Atlantic, Vice, The Daily Caller, and The Weekly Standard, the latter two Chris tells us “let him make his racist sympathies clear in print.” In 2019 Chris and HuffPo “exposed” 11 racist servicemen. Evidence HuffPo amassed included a Facebook posting by one who wrote he likes “Tennessee because it is conservative and Christian, implicitly white.” That’s not even true; the state is almost 17 percent black but whatever.

    Chris the journalist also believes without evidence “many nameless fascists today lead double lives, hiding behind avatars to promote their noxious beliefs online while holding down respectable day jobs in education, military, law enforcement, medicine or government.” He works with whatever the hell the Anonymous Comrades Collective is “to expose Nazis, racists and fascists.”

    By the way, in case you haven’t guessed, paranoid Journo Chris is the threat and Racist Shawn is the one who just likes to hear himself talk.

    When so-called journalists judge ideological purism, we see in practice the same hatred and bigotry, backed up by self-granted righteousness, they claim to oppose. Shawn blathering out of his basement about how gays aren’t suitable for the military is no different than Chris standing atop HuffPo’s platform and saying people like Shawn aren’t suitable for the military.

    Like any good National Socialist of old, Chris is certain what he is doing protects the country in what he wrote is a moment of moral emergency. He and HuffPo are nasty ideologues who believe their ends – ideologically cleansing America – justify the means. Right now that cleansing is a version of cancellation but really, why stop there? Go full Inglorious Basterds and really take out some Nazis as a final solution to free speech, the threat to democracy that keeps electing Republicans.

    Things have moved beyond journalists sniping at each other in print, or even partisan reporting. The case with Chris and Shawn is repugnant because it involves a journalist who finds someone else’s exercise of a Constitutional right so distasteful that he used the full power of an international media organization protected by that same First Amendment to destroy the speaker. That’s far more distasteful than anything out of Shawn’s potty mouth. And, biggest picture of all, that’s what is left of journalism at this point.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • The One About Malaise

    October 21, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Democracy

     

    The word malaise, a general feeling of uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify, is starting to creep in to discussions. It’s a word, albeit like most everything these days, politically-loaded after its use by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 to describe the country he could not figure out to how lead.

    Carter’s specific use of the term focused on the energy crisis, when OPEC monkeyed with America’s oil supply. But Carter saw something much deeper was wrong. Not just an oil shortage to manage, but a recession of hope, a crisis of confidence that someone would have to lead America out of. He perceived we were tired, worn down, unable to come together in common purpose to fix something.

    It would be interesting to hear what Carter thinks about 2021. where things don’t work well. Flights don’t fly. Inflation returned. Gas is expensive. Supply chain problems mean Americans are for the first time since WWII rationing getting used to hearing “We don’t have any and aren’t sure when we will.” Unemployment plagues us as Covid tore the wool off many Americans’ eyes about how little meaningless jobs for sub-living wages contributed to their piggy banks or their sense of self-worth. Nurses who were last years heroes for working unvaccinated are fired today for being unvaccinated.

    There appears no end to Covid. The promised conclusion, the vaccine, proved as rich a lie as two weeks to flatten the curve. Even fully vaccinated people are prisoners to restrictions and mandates that often make no sense, or at the very least vary so much from state to state as to challenge their usefulness. There is little faith the economic devastation caused by mismanaged Covid restrictions will ever be addressed; the poor will just get poorer. There is a declining sense Covid is a problem that can be managed as it has been in much of the world (see Europe, especially Scandinavia.) The conclusion is no one is really in charge.

    Economic inequality has risen to where there are two systems, one for the wealthy and one for most of the rest of us, for everything. Education, healthcare, travel, shopping, how you are treated by the law, where you can eat or entertain yourself, what masking rules apply to your social events. Diseases of despair, suicide, alcohol, and drug overdoses, drive a drop in our life expectancy.

    Is there anyone who can claim, in the American tradition, that our lives are getting better? That they are confident in a better future?

    Looking for leadership, Americans come up short. The best our system could produce last election was two geriatric candidates. Biden, elected, has done little to move the nation past Covid. He hid behind our national exhaustion with Afghanistan to not suffer a greater political defeat over the botched Gotterdammerung in Kabul. His open borders policy created a massive humanitarian crisis, and a growing political one as an unknown number of immigrants play a version of the Squid Game to flood America. The Border Patrol reports “200,000 encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border in July,” the highest monthly total since Bill Clinton was president.

    The president can’t even exercise leadership over his own party, and it appears likely his signature infrastructure bills and social spending initiatives, if they pass at all, will be more symbolic than transformational. In the background, police reform legislation failed, and most defunded departments have been refunded to face down rising crime. “Disappointed” is likely the term most Biden voters would be apt to use.

    America alongside all this has become a deeply cynical place. We once were to the annoyance of most of the world an endlessly optimistic place. Now we take for granted AOC and the media would be at the border for the Kids in Kages spectacular but missing when an even worse situation unfolds on Biden’s watch. We roll our eyes when the media tells us what we’re hearing isn’t what we’re hearing but “Let’s Go, Brandon.” Newspapers will print any Trump gossip but not one actual Hunter Biden email.

    All of this bleeds over into how we interact with each other. Never mind the street fights over whether black lives matter, or the combat on planes, in restaurants, and at Walmart. We don’t discuss things, never mind disagree because we don’t just hate ideas, we hate the people who hold those ideas. It doesn’t matter anyway because what were once sincere beliefs now come in packaged memes. When we run out of big issues we discover microaggressions. We enjoy as classist sport how businesses care so little about their employees they’ll fire them if one of us makes a scene. We video everything in hopes of settling matters by embarrassing someone virally.

    How prescient was Jimmy Carter when he made his “malaise” speech in 1979? The seeds he saw being planted have now grown to sad, desperate fruition. What he said then might well describe where we are now:

    “There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

    “All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path — the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our nation and ourselves. We can take the first steps down that path as we begin to solve our… problem.”

    For all he foresaw in his ferocious tenderness towards America, Carter failed to find a way to lead, and in 1980 suffered complete election defeat at the hands of someone who promised he would. Biden certainly did not create the current malaise in America. But his failures, far too many in too short a time, have not helped fix it. Disappointed and unhappy people vote for change. Never mind all the screeching Republicans might steal the next election. Democrats should recognize history suggests they simply will win it.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Biden’s China Policy is Dangerous

    October 16, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Embassy/State

    Joe Biden’s China policy is unnecessarily adversarial. It is impractical and dangerous. It plays out as if U.S. foreign policy is run by WWII reenactors.

    China was artificially reimagined as an enemy-in-a-box as the wars of terror sputtered out and America needed a new Bond villian. Biden envisions China as an autocratic foe for democracy to wage a global struggle against. “On my watch,” Joe said, “China will not achieve its goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world.” Biden went on to claim the world was at an inflection point to determine “whether or not democracy can function in the 21st century.” In Biden’s neo-Churchillian view, the U.S. and what the hell, the whole free world he believes he is president of, are in a death match with China for global hearts and minds.

    One problem in this world view is the unbelievable hypocrisy underlying America’s claimed role. Biden seems oblivious the U.S. mows down Muslims by drone and cluster bomb even while it self-righteously tsk tsks China for bullying its Uighur minority. After our two decade hissy fit of invasions and nation building brought kleptocracies and terrorists to lead countries, we dare bark that China is not democratic. We seem not to notice our lack of clothing when we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with petty tyrants and dictators strewn around Africa and the Middle East. We see no issues demanding democracy in Hong Kong while ignoring its weakening across the United States (never mind not having had much to say about democracy in Hong Kong when it was a British colony stolen by war from Chinese sovereignty.) A pretty weak resume when you’re aiming at Leader of the Free World.

    Apart from sheer hypocrisy, there are other reasons to wonder how China ended up America’s sworn enemy for Cold War 2.0. The relationship otherwise does not look much like that of our old nemesis, the Soviet Union. The Russkies had a nasty habit of rolling tanks across borders, as of course does the U.S. Sometimes it was even the same country — how’d that Afghanistan thing work out? In contrast is the utter lack of countries China has invaded since WWII. Unlike the wheezing old Soviet economy, China is the world’s second largest economy, and one deeply tied, integrated, and in a symbiotic relationship with the U.S. China is the second largest foreign holder of U.S. government debt just behind Japan, with massive investments across the board inside the United States.

    Not counting Hunter Biden (we kid) the total Chinese investment in the U.S. economy is over $145 billion. The Cold War joke, countries with a McDonald’s never made war on each other, seems under revision. The Chinese are literally betting the house on America succeeding. Meanwhile, U.S. investment in China has passed $1 trillion. As we learned when Covid briefly shut down world logistics, the American economy is voluntarily dependent on Chinese manufacturing and vice-versa.

    With all this co-dependent commerce it is also increasingly unclear what we have to fight about, and what we have to gain in picking a fight. About the best the war influencers can come up with are lurid predictions that Chinese investments are a secret tool to control the U.S. (as opposed to any other investors [Jeff Bezos, cough cough] domestic or foreign, yeah right.) They claim “someday” China will “weaponize” its investments and harm the U.S. Left unexplained is how China would need to take a $1.1 trillion bath on its Treasuries alone, never mind slamming closed its largest export market and having to find a way to use unfinished iPhones as a food source.

    So why the lust for a new Cold War? The problem Biden faces on China, and everywhere else really, is the biggest player in today’s foreign affairs is the military. In many parts of the world (particularly Asia and Africa) the combatant commanders are putative epicenters for security, diplomatic, humanitarian, and commercial affairs. One reason is range: unlike ambassadors, whose budget and influence are confined to single countries, combatant commanders’ reach is continental. Unlike the White House, whose focus is ever-shifting, the military has the interest and manpower to stick around everywhere. Colonels grow up to be generals. Generals outlast administrations.

    The military has written America’s adversarial China policy. Following the old Cold War playbook, the goal seems to crank up tensions and exaggerate threats until confrontation looks inevitable but never really happens. Here’s how that plan recently exposed itself with China.

    Australia just ditched a $66 billion contract for French diesel-electric submarines to instead buy U.S. nuclear-powered submarines. This is alongside a new alliance which will also see Australia, the U.S., and the United Kingdom share advanced technologies. The genesis was the U.S. military’s muscular diplomacy, ramping up for a war with China they hope will power their budgets for decades. A side deal with Britain to station its newest aircraft carriers in Asia was certainly part of the package. This brings both the British and the Australians, nuclearized, into the South China Sea in force. An arms salesman just wrote Biden’s China policy.

    For what? China fusses with its neighbors over ownership of a handful of islands in the neighborhood, hardly worth risking total nuclear war over. See, it’s the nukes that rule out another Falklands. Even so, the U.S. can’t help but contribute to the saber rattling. The White House recently announced the existing U.S.-Japan security treaty now extends to the disputed Senkaku islands and the Philippines security treaty covers Manila’s claims to Chinese-occupied islets in the South China Sea. Flashback: once upon a time it was the Soviets who were supposed to invade disputed islands held by Japan. Never did.

    China and Taiwan make sport out of lofting rhetoric at each other, all the while maintaining a robust economic relationship that defines modus vivendi. Between 1991 and March 2020, Taiwan’s investment in China totaled $188.5 billion, more than China’s investment in the United States. In 2019, the value of cross-strait trade was $149.2 billion. Pre-Covid travelers from China made 2.68 million visits to Taiwan. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner. What incentive would China have to drop bombs on one of its best customers? Um, how about… none?

    As they say, follow the money. The money leads toward rapprochement, right under America’s nose. Barack Obama sought the economic isolation of China. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a 2016 proposed trade agreement among most everyone in Asia except China. Trump withdrew the U.S. from TPP in 2017. In 2018 the remaining countries negotiated a new consolation prize-like agreement called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership which meant little without the participation of economic superpowers U.S. and China. Yet while Biden has made no moves to bring the U.S. back into the play, and has kept Trump’s tariffs in place against China, Chinese diplomats have been busy beavers.

    In an end run timed to mock the American submarine deal with Australia, China applied in September to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. A week later, with no opposition voiced by Beijing, Taiwan applied to join as well. Radio silence on both applications from Washington, who, as a non-participant in the group, doesn’t even have a vote on the matter. And Biden has made clear he has no plans to join in the future. Ironically, the genesis of all this, the Obama TPP, was designed to force China at dollar-point to reform itself and be More Like Us. Who is it now that seems to be setting the rules of today’s international system in both trade and diplomacy? China is offering favorable access to its lucrative market to diplomatically influence the alliance on its own terms. All the U.S. has to offer its allies is a subordinate and expensive role in a new Cold War.

    Where is the State Department? Nine months into his administration Biden still does not have an ambassador in Beijing, leaving China policy in caretaker hands. His nominee for ambassador, Nick Burns, is an old State Department hack, having made a career by bending over backwards in both directions as administrations changed. Coming out of a spokesmodel-type retirement university job, Burns will be read by Beijing, if he ever gets there, as a placeholder, a political crony handed a sweet, mostly ceremonial, final job.

    Elsewhere, Beijing seeks to make friends with its “belt and road” trade and investment initiative in Asia. If the America’s Afghan War had any winners, it’s probably the Chinese, who found some common ground with the Taliban (look it up, it’s called diplomacy, often done even with your enemies) and thus potential access to their vast mineral resources. American businesses meanwhile demand from Biden’s deaf ears he clarify the economic relationship with China.

    While Biden passively allows the military to prepare for war under the sea, China is winning in the competition over our heads in a game Biden does not seem to even know exists. American foreign policy credibility and its confrontational strategy has been shown to be a farce. America is still a big, mean dog, but our ability to influence events around the world is limited to barking and biting and only works when barking and biting is the solution. When anything beyond threats is needed, say when dealing with near-peers like China, we have few if any tools but to reimagine legitimate competitors into enemies. Our policy toward China, like our president, is a failed artifact from another era.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Old Laws Never Die, A Tale of Covid and the DMV

    October 12, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America


    Two weeks to flatten the curve became 18 months of masks and vax mandates with no end in sight. New powers to regulate lives seized from the people by government. Rules which make no common sense dominate our lives, experiments in compliance not science. How do Covid restrictions end? They likely never will.

    I learned this at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV.) My re-education started when I was told to prove as an American citizen in an American state that I am “resident” here, not simply being an American in America. I’m a good sport and wanted to comply, just like I try to keep up with the latest rules and Purell my hands 600 times a day against an airborne virus. I knew threats weren’t inherently political, right, and you just can’t be too careful.

    For proof of residence the DMV wants some sort of olde timey paper trail, returned check stubs and paper utility bills. No one at the DMV seems aware all this stuff went to “the online” a while ago, and that it is sort of normal to reside in one state with an online bank in another state and no paper bills or statements from anywhere with only a cell phone from an area code from two moves ago and which banks still return cancelled paper checks each month anyway? They growled at me for even raising the question.

    Like the waitress who had no idea how to explain why I needed a mask to walk to my table but no mask when I sat at my table, the DMV clerk said she was not allowed to look at my phone screen or scroll through my apps to see evidence of me paying local condo fees, having a local address with a distant bank, etc. I was told to go home and print out everything and she’d take a look. And because of Covid, next available appointment is, let’s see… never. I will have to keep my old McLovin’ license a while longer. I timidly asked why?

    “Because of 9/11” the clerk said in that voice used with really stupid children. It was clear she did not know more than that about why she was demanding these things of me, so no point pressing it. It took me a moment to remember 9/11 as 9/11 was twenty years ago. I asked the clerk where she was on that fateful day and she said “In fifth grade.” I can easily imagine my children 20 years in the future having a similar conversation about why they had to prove their 35th booster shot to go bowling.

    I said a silent thanks that our vax passports are all electronic now, handy on the same phone my movements are tracked by so if I get lost someone can find me. Think how silly jokes like “Papers, bitte, mein herr!” will sound in the future when there’s no paper! LOL.

    The problem with old laws that once were enacted for our safety amidst an emergency is they never go away. They don’t adapt to new realities. Power taken is not returned. Fear becomes the standing justification for everything. I realized while threats aren’t necessarily inherently political, the responses sure are. It’s easy, and politically fun, the claim all the fears over Covid restrictions on our liberties are just conspiracy theories, deplorable gasping. It is easy for the media to ignore the many people opposed to masks are not anti-science but anti-politically charged public policy. The media forget once upon a time a driver’s license was just so you could drive not an excuse to gather personal information.

    The Real ID law was where my problems at the DMV started, the 2004 law a result of recommendations from the 9/11 Commission, who discovered 18 of the 19 hijackers obtained legit state IDs. Fun fact: the hijackers were all legally present in the United States, most fully resident and able to prove it, holding legitimately issued student visas for their flight schools and would have passed the Real ID speed bump had it existed then. Nonetheless, in the interest of safety Something Had to Be Done, albeit the equivalent of a cloth condom. Or a poorly fitting dust mask.

    So America’s 245 million license holders had to make an in-person visit to their DMV with all these bits of paper in order to obtain a Real ID compliant license. Your local DMV now gathers more information about you than your mother knows and stores it nationally accessible to, well, not sure who, but a lot of people, at an estimated implementation cost of $23.1 billion. But we’re safer, right, can’t put a price on that. Actually, we will be safer. Though proposed in the smoldering ruins of 2004, delays and rolling implementation mean Real IDs were not required for domestic flights until October 2020, and full enforcement does not begin until May 2023. Until then, keep an eye on your masked seatmates.

     

    The best part of all is the last time anyone actually tested my ability to drive was in 1976, when I drove my mother’s car around the block and then parallel parked it to the satisfaction of an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper. In getting my new driver’s license in 2021, no one actually checked if I could safely do the actual thing the license was in place to allow me to do.
    I can almost hear the voice of the Twilight Zone guy, saying “And therein lies our cautionary tale. Rules proposed, let’s allow, in good faith often fail to accomplish that what they were originally intended to. Rather, they empower small bullies disguised as clerks and waiters who in the name of safety taunt us to provide bits of paper from the scavenger hunt of our lives to entertain them. But that’s the least of our troubles. They are but background players in a bigger game: governments collecting more and more information, placing restrictions without accurate explanation, claiming it is for our own good when clearly it is actually for their own good. We’ll check back in 20 years, to see how many of the Covid restrictions still apply here, at the DMV, or elsewhere… in the Twilight Zone.”

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.